Genre: Historical Women's Fiction

Blog Book Tour | “The Strongman and the Mermaid” [The Donora Story Collection: Book Two] by Kathleen Shoop with reflections on behalf of reading the first novel in the series “After the Fog”

Posted Monday, 20 May, 2019 by jorielov , , , , 2 Comments

#HistoricalMondays blog banner created by Jorie in Canva.

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 [2013] 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 [2013] – 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.

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via

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 [2015] 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 [2015]. 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”.

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via

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 [2017] (the year my father recovered from his stroke) and [2018] 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 [2015] 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 [2019] 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.

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via

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.

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via

Blog Book Tour | “The Strongman and the Mermaid” [The Donora Story Collection: Book Two] by Kathleen Shoop with reflections on behalf of reading the first novel in the series “After the Fog”The Strongman and the Mermaid
by Kathleen Shoop
Source: Author via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Myscowa, Poland—1910

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.

Donora, Pennsylvania—1910

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

ISBN: 9781731561138

Genres: Feminist Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Women's Fiction

Published by Self Published Author

on 28th February, 2019

Format: POD | Print On Demand Paperback

Pages: 563

This is a self-published novel

The Donora Story Collection:

After the Fog by Kathleen ShoopThe Strongman and the Mermaid by Kathleen Shoop

After the Fog (book one)

The Strongman & the Mermaid (book two)

Formats Available: Trade Paperback, Audiobook and Ebook

About Kathleen Shoop

Kathleen Shoop

Bestselling author, Kathleen Shoop, holds a PhD in reading education and has more than 20 years of experience in the classroom. She writes historical fiction, women’s fiction and romance. Shoop’s novels have garnered various awards in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, Eric Hoffer Book Awards, Indie Excellence Awards, Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the San Francisco Book Festival. Kathleen has been featured in USA Today and the Writer’s Guide to 2013. Her work has appeared in The Tribune-Review, four Chicken Soup for the Soul books and Pittsburgh Parent magazine. She lives in Oakmont, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Read More

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:


Posted Monday, 20 May, 2019 by jorielov in #HistoricalMondays, 20th Century, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Content Note, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, History, Self-Published Author, The Steel Industry, Vulgarity in Literature

Author Interview | Discussing #HistoricalFiction and “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat” with Alrene Hughes

Posted Wednesday, 24 April, 2019 by jorielov , , 0 Comments

Conversations with the Bookish badge created by Jorie in Canva

Hallo, Hallo dear hearts!

As you might remember, I shared my ruminations on a lovely new war drama during #HistoricalMondays this week – which involved the life of Sarah and her daughter Gracie within the pages of “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat”. The story is set on the jump-start of WWII – in 1939 where the whole world is on bated breath and worried about what will come next as memories of the Great War were still fervently in their minds and memories. This is a story of trial, tribulation and adversity of facing fear and of giving yourself a chance to find unconditional love – you truly feel rooted in the setting, as Hughes has such a compelling way of bringing Manchester to life during this particular decade of interest.

Although I have read quite a lot of war dramas throughout my reading life and as a book blogger – this was the first I remember being set outside of the coastal regions of England, the inland townes or cities of England or Wales and outside the scope of the blitzing London endured. It gave a hearty new understanding of what another large city of England was facing and how brave the residents were to endure what was happening to them with little warning – the sense of hopelessness and the fears which arise when your being separated from your children and without the certainty of knowing if there would be a tomorrow in a peaceful world now that your life was being torn apart by war.

I appreciated the ways in which Hughes gave us a chance to get to know her characters before all the changes started to incur in their lives – she tempers the war itself by the interpersonal experiences of her characters’ lives – giving you a proper sense of community and the setting of being in Manchester at the turning of a new decade (the 40s). You truly felt captured by the factories in which Gracie finds employment  – how those interactions with her work mates and the discourse of stress that others in her work cause her – leads you to seeing a fuller sense of what life was for young woman when England joined the second world war.

I wanted to converse with Ms Hughes about how she approached writing this war drama and was wicked happy finding out there was time to add this as a secondary focus on my blog during the blog tour. This was a new author for me to read and as a lover of Historical Fiction, it was a delight of joy to disappear back into the 1930s and see life through the lens of an encapsulated viewing of the early 20th Century.

Brew yourself a cuppa and enjoy this conversation – you’ll have a lovely glimpse of what went on behind-the-book and a few insights into what I loved most about reading the novel, too!

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Find out why I enjoyed reading “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat”:

When we first alight into Gracie’s life, she’s one of the line workers for raincoats turning out quantity for an order which puts everyone on a bit of an edge. Her boss’s nephew catches her eye, as he would due to his personality and charming features – however, it is her approach to lifting the workday by her presence which hugged me into the story. The comforting encouraging voice of her mother trying to forestall the panic of the pending war gave you a proper sense of where we were in History; as she assuaged their fears but also, relied the truths of their situation in a way which felt more uplifting than horrifying. This was when England was on the fringes of war – before the blitzing and before they would all become afeared of the skies for what they would bring into their lives. You could readily see where Gracie found her font of strength and how she had the courage to do what she was doing – as she came from strong stock, as evidenced by her Mum.

My heart took a clutching moment of realisation when it was revealled Jacob was Jewish – I knew there was going to be a probable cause towards what might separate Gracie and Jacob, as this is in effect a romance caught in the tides of war; however, is anyone ever really prepared for what happened during that particular era? I liked how Hughes dampened the pending circumstances by allowing us to see the young couple together ahead of everything which would soon begin. We could tuck into their lives before the start of war – seeing how the innocence of their attraction and the joyfulness of a relaxing weekend could bring a bit of happiness into their lives. It was quite foretelling on Jacob’s behalf what he remarks to Gracie in that particular moment – about how this could be the last day of spending their hours in idle reprieve? There were little nuanced observations like this which took you backwards in time – to a point where no one was fully aware of how much their lives would become altered as it was all too new to where they were not yet afflicted.

I had to smile and chuckle when Gracie criticised her Mum for using too much vinegar on her hair! I hadn’t heard of this trick to keep the shine in your locks – I love rooting out this kind of trivia from the past – of how women sorted out ways to do things with ingredients we might not think of using today. Some of which, of course, still has merit as not every new way of doing ordinary things is the better option even today. It was keen to see where Jacob took Gracie on her first date as well – I liked how she was off-put at first by his choice and then, how she fell at ease with realising ‘where’ he was taking her wasn’t quite what it appeared on the surface. It spoke to how they both had different impressions and reactions to the same situations but also, how he hadn’t taken the time to disarm her concerns before he surprised her with a nice night out.

There is a lovely ebb and flow to this story – I felt so caught inside the goings-on of Gracie’s life – from the antics of her co-workers to how smitten she was with Jacob. Jacob was a bit of a Renaissance man – preferring the cultural offerings of theatre and music than most men their age. It was a special treat for Gracie to be treated to these kinds of luxuries and it was whilst she was listening to Jacob talk passionately about his love of the theatre where she realised how uniquely different he was from the other blokes she was previously interested in knowing. I felt for her it marked a turning point – about the kind of person she wanted to date and also, the kind of man who could introduce her to the joys in life she hadn’t been exposed too previously.

One of my favourite supporting characters is Gracie’s Mum – whom has her own story-line which I felt was of equal importance to Gracie’s. Her Mum had immigrated from Ireland to begin anew in England – not coming from the best of families and of having her own heart broken in young love. It is interesting too, how the mother had had experience with star-crossed love inasmuch as her daughter – almost as if history was repeating itself for both women. Wherein Hughes talks about the hardships between falling in love with men of a different religion, she also points out how sometimes you have to find the inner strength to stand against the distrust of a society. In this instance, the harder part of the story is the year it is set – 1939 as being at war changed everyone’s perception about everything.

Hughes represents the era well. Including how she eludes to what is going to be happening before you can blink past the horrors of what came next – she gives measure of place and setting for how lives were starting to become affected by the war and how the war was going to change the lives of those who lived in England and the surrounding countries. In small ways, she gave you a chance to navigate those changes – as she lent observations of what was happening in regards to what Gracie saw or how intuitive those round her were becoming of events yet known. Quite a smart way to approach writing a war drama as those of us who read a heap of these can appreciate this approach. It is the calm before the pending storm but it is also instinctive of human nature.

This is a very evolving story-line – at the heart of it is a young girl who is caught in the throes of first love on the fringes of the second world war. You find yourself following in her footsteps as she moves from one factory to another, trying to carve out a living wage at a time where jobs are scarce and there is a boiling effect of fear running through the undertone of society. No one understands what is going to happen next and with everything on the brink, it paints a solid portrait of how ‘life at home’ during the war years was just as trying as those who were fighting it. The women in the factories were oft-times placed in danger due to the kind of co-workers they found in those factories, which I felt Hughes highlighted well. However, rather than keeping this a darker tale of intrigue wrapped inside a war drama – she also etches out a lot of light, random joys and a sense of community amongst the friendships Gracie is able to maintain throughout the ordeal she finds the strength to survive.

-quoted from my review of The Girl in the Pink Raincoat

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via

Author Interview | Discussing #HistoricalFiction and “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat” with Alrene HughesThe Girl in the Pink Raincoat
by Alrene Hughes
Source: Direct from Publisher

In wartime it takes courage to follow your heart.

Manchester, 1939.

Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory.

Gracie is a girl on the factory floor. Jacob is the boss's charismatic nephew. When they fall in love, it seems as if the whole world is against them – especially Charlie Nuttall, who also works at the factory and has always wanted Gracie for himself.

But worse is to come when Jacob disappears and Gracie is devastated, vowing to find him. Can she solve the mystery of his whereabouts? Gracie will need all her strength and courage to find a happy ending.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781788543972

Also by this author: The Girl in the Pink Raincoat

Genres: Historical Fiction, Historical Women's Fiction, Women's Fiction

Published by Head of Zeus

on 1st March, 2019

Format: UK Edition Paperback

 Published By:  Published By: Head of Zeus (@HoZ_Books)
{imprint of} Simon & Schuster (

Converse via: #GirlInThePinkRaincoat, #HistNov and #HistFic
Available Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Audiobook & Ebook

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via

What first inspired the story “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat” and of setting the story against the backdrop of the world war era in 1939?

Hughes responds: I had previously written a trilogy of WWII novels set in Belfast where I grew up. I then decided to write about Manchester, where I have lived for most of my adult life. Both were industrial cities, crucial to the war effort, and heavily bombed. The main character, Gracie, came to me straightaway and fully formed. A lively, confident young woman who would have the strength to endure the worst of what war could throw at her. Read More


Posted Wednesday, 24 April, 2019 by jorielov in #HistoricalMondays, 20th Century, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Content Note, Domestic Violence, England, Fly in the Ointment, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Publishers & Presses (Direct Reviews), Realistic Fiction, the Thirties, The World Wars, War Drama, Women's Fiction