July 31, 2012

After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop

Please welcome to HF-Connection author of After The Fog, Kathleen Shoop

After the Fog (April 12, 2012)

For every woman who thinks she left her past behind...

It's 1948 in the steel town of Donora, Pennsylvania, site of the infamous “killing smog.” Public health nurse, Rose Pavlesic, has risen above her orphaned upbringing and created a life that reflects everything she missed as a child. She’s even managed to keep her painful secrets hidden from her doting husband, loving children, and large extended family.

When a stagnant weather pattern traps poisonous mill gasses in the valley, neighbors grow sicker and Rose’s nursing obligations thrust her into conflict she never could have fathomed. Consequences from her past collide with her present life, making her once clear decisions as gray as the suffocating smog. As pressure mounts, Rose finds she’s not the only one harboring lies. When the deadly fog finally clears, the loss of trust and faith leaves the Pavlesic family—and the whole town—splintered and shocked. With her new perspective, can Rose finally forgive herself and let her family’s healing begin?

Love in the Time of Dirt and Grime by Kathleen Shoop

My latest novel, After the Fog, is historical fiction. It bursts with historical details that illustrate what the citizens of Donora, Pennsylvania experienced during the historic 1948 killing smog. Of course, being fiction—the storyline and the characters that bring the historic facts to life are creations of my imagination. After the Fog is a gritty tale as any story set in a vintage mill town must be. The dirt, toxins, and soot coming from the steel mills and from one’s own furnace dirtied even the most conscientious housewife’s home, clothing, furniture, and skin.

For the men, the work of the day was bone-crushing hard and scorching hot. Though the mill-work might have appeared to outsiders to be mindless, most of the jobs demanded intricate skill and complete focus in order to keep from losing a finger, a leg, a life.

Things may have been simpler in 1948, but they were also physically demanding. Depending on economic status and geographical location people may not have embodied the sanitized, sitcom-style language and manners that we have come to associate with that “innocent” post-war era. One article that appeared in The New Yorker (The Fog, Berton Roueche’, 1950) quoted a Donora doctor saying, “My God it [smoke] just lay there! I thought, well, God damn…” The coarse, public language of a physician (and others) was not uncommon in steel towns all over western Pennsylvania.
Even though my characters were crafted to reflect the harsh place and time, they needed to be humanized. I needed something in the book to offset the grittiness and so I gave Rose and Henry a loving though imperfect relationship. Henry is a steel-worker who loves poetry. He tries to work out his worries about the world through his own writing and by reading WH Auden. His wife, Rose, has more trouble accessing and expressing her feelings than Henry. She is a practical, straightforward community nurse—in some ways machine-like. For her, moving ahead means not looking back as her early, orphaned life left her emotional wounds scarred over.

To further humanize Rose and Henry I gave them a sex life. I thought it fit in that the couple found communicating through affection more profitable than by connecting through endless discussion. Henry passes Rose in the kitchen, and pulls her into a quick hug. She gently tends to his slag injury even while scolding him. They are rarely in the same room where one doesn’t touch the other in some way before the scene ends—meanwhile both are keeping secrets.

The touching, the unspoken tenderness affords Henry and Rose the opportunity to hope they are insuring their marital bond is strong, even when their lies distance them. Their intimate moments could hardly be characterized as tantalizing, but instead are utilitarian—a tool for human connection when all else fails. So no, After the Fog is not a romance by genre, but I think it is, indeed, a love story.

After the Fog is the second historical fiction novel by bestselling Kindle author Kathleen Shoop. It has garnered awards including Winner, Literary Fiction, from the National Indie Excellence Book Awards. Her debut novel, The Last Letter, sold more than 50,000 copies and garnered multiple awards in 2011, including the Independent Publisher Awards Gold Medal. A Language Arts Coach with a Ph.D. in Reading Education, Kathleen lives in Oakmont, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

Kathleen Shoop
You can download After the Fog on Amazon for $2.99

July 25, 2012

Join Us for a Wolf Hall Read-a-Long

I am hosting a Wolf Hall Read-a-Long at my main book blog, The True Book Addict.  My co-host is Kai at Fiction State of Mind.  The read-a-long will run from August 4 - September 15.  You can find out all the details by visiting the sign-up post HERE.  I hope you will join us!

July 21, 2012

Part 4: The Queen's Vow FINAL Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)
Part I's Discussion Post
Part II's Discussion Post
Part III's Discussion Post

Part IV: The Fallen Kingdom 1481-1492

Final Thoughts:

As I write 1492 as the end of Part IV.. is that where it ends? 1492? It is a year that is entrenched in our heads as the year of Cristobal Colon sailed the ocean blue.. and here we are finally at the conclusion of The Queen's Vow.

We do meet Cristobal Colon aka Columbus, and all his saucy ways as he introduces himself to Isabella. Isabella is portrayed as being very interested in exploring the world unknown. Does Isabella see World Domination in her future as she gazes at Colon?

Also in this part, Isabella is a target of assassination. One wonders what would have become of the Inquisition if the attempt succeeded? Would Fernando have taken up the banner and continued his fight against the Moors and Jewish?

Did you feel that the decision to conquer the Moors was a good one, considering the financial state of both Castile and Aragon, and the Cortes' reluctance to borrow heavily from the Jewish citizens?

Isabella is willing to send prisoners to slavery, only to be ransomed for money to be released. Yet another sad state of the times connected to Isabella is the slavery issue. I can appreciate how Gortner is adding these small details so that we can discern for ourselves the character of Isabella, especially when he is making sure he doesn't paint her in an all too positive light.

One can't help but wonder how Isabella would feel knowing that her daughter Catherine was divorced by Henry VIII but that her grand-daughter Mary had the same zealous religious intolerance as Isabella.

If you've read The Last Queen, do you have any thoughts on the scene between Juana and her grandmother? Juana, in general, is given a lively, stubborn personality in this book and a loving relationship with her father; do you feel it plays up well to the author's novel on her life?

From previous comments during this read-along, it is apparent that we all have different perspectives and reading tastes. Did you find the political maneuverings, the religious strife or Isabella's personal life the most pleasing to read?

Throughout the story, which characters have been your favorites?

How do you interpret the title, The Queen's Vow? What was Isabella's vow, and did she carry it out to your expectations?

What are your final thoughts? Please feel free to post your review links if you are a blogger as well as continue our discussion on Part 4 and on the novel as a whole.

You can read Michelle's review here.
You can read Marie's review here.
You can read Arleigh's review Monday. ;)

AND...Drum roll, please!

Arleigh offered a special giveaway, and it's time to announce our winner:


Please put your email address in the comments so we can discuss shipment!

Thank you so much for participating, this was a lot of fun!

If you are itching for another read along Michelle is co-hosting a read along of Wolf Hall, posts will be held at other blogs.. see the details here.

Till next time...

July 17, 2012

Part 3: The Queen's Vow Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)

Part III: The Double-edged Sword 1474-1480 (pages 219-299)

This section opens up with Isabella finally obtaining the crown of Castile. Her husband is away, and Isabella goes through the motions of becoming Queen without Fernando at her side. This does not bode well when he returns from Aragon, as we see Fernando green with envy, or angry at her advisers, or upset that Isabella is not a whimpering female willing to wait for Fernando's approval.

As we turn the pages, we see Isabella grow confident and struggle less with major decisions, and although she adores Fernando, she also adores Castile. If she had to choose, who will she choose? The same could be said for Fernando: if he had to choose Aragon over Isabella, what would his choice be?

The apparition-like figure in white makes an appearance when Isabella is crowned..is she hallucinating? Is she touched by God? It can only be a sign of things to come. And we learn Fernando is not faithful to Isabella, how has this changed your view of him? Several of our readers here had expressed a liking for him, is that still the case?

After reading the Tudor novels featuring Catherine of Aragon, Isabella's daughter, we have had visions of Isabella in our heads of the fearless warrior of Isabella fighting the moors and birthing her many babies. Part III does indeed have Isabella running off into the middle of conflict. Does this telling change your previous views of Isabella, and of her marriage?

What if the first person narrative was taken away and Gortner used a third person perspective? Do you think there would be more depth to the story if Gortner had that ability?

"Would I never be satisfied by the efforts of anyone, most of all my own self?"

In her own words, Isabella laments over her self expectations and those she sometimes irrationally sets to others. Do you feel this is a failure of hers, or does it make her a stronger monarch?

Isabella felt a shift in her marriage after the stand-still with Portugal. Do you feel her relationship with Fernado changed after this event?

What is your opinion of Carrillo? Were you disappointed with him, or did you see his perfidy coming?

As the story shifted from gaining the throne and subduing the nobles to church reform, were you surprised to find Isabella so lax toward the Jewish community and loath to bring upheaval to her newly won subjects?

Heirs, printing presses and eclipses...what was your favorite surprise from this part of the story?

For those who have read The Last Queen, what did you think of the (prophetic?) birth of Juana? (my favorite scene).

The section ends with the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition. Were you surprised at Isabella's reluctance (as I was), and Fernando's support of the religious purging?

Now that we've read three parts of Gortner's novel, we need to begin to gather our final thoughts for the discussion post this Saturday. We have all been applauding Gortner's writing, the story, our awe for the characters. Let's get deeper, and see if we can find something that irked us. Was there anything in the story that bothered you? Was there anything missing? Is there something you would have preferred to be explored deeper? Which 'Part' was your favorite? Save those final thoughts for Saturday! And get your reviews ready, you can post your review links on the final discussion post as well.

July 14, 2012

Part 2: The Queen's Vow Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)

Part Two covers "An Unforbidden Union", years 1468-1474 and from pages 129 through 215.

It is indeed a new chapter for Isabella. Being initially third in line to the throne of Castile, and then set aside for her half-brother's heirs, Isabella had no real reason to believe she would ever have to rule over Castile. As we conclude Part 1, Isabella laments that "Castile had lost its hope."

Our discussion of Part 1 contemplates the legitimacy of Enrique's daughter, Enrique's kingship, and the fate of Alfonso.

Continuing the reading with Part 2, Isabella reflects, and realizes her duty to Castile, which conflicts with her brother's Enrique's wishes. The political upheaval is rampant, as sides are forced to be taken. And this is when Isabella's story really begins to shape and take hold of the reader.

How has your opinion of Isabella evolved during the novel thus far? As Isabella slowly realizes that her destiny is to unite Castile and Aragon, has this depiction of Isabella created more of a likable character for you? It certainly has for me.

At the end of Part 2 we have Torquemada guiding Isabella and I get the distinct feeling that things are going to be changing....

What are the parts of Part 2 that you enjoyed the most? Are you having difficulty slowing the pace to match the read along? I specifically stopped reading the book a few days earlier so that I could stay with the read along schedule. I am looking forward to picking it back up so I can see what Part 3 has in store for us!

July 10, 2012

Part 1: The Queen's Vow Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)

Have you read Part 1 of The Queen's Vow? If so... what are your thoughts? If you have not completed Part 1, you can still participate today by sharing your initial impressions (and expectations) of both Isabella and the book itself.

And for comparison, have you read other works featuring Isabella?
What were your impressions of Isabella before you began reading the book? Do you think your opinion of her may change?

What of the relationships of the family of Isabella? Between Alfonso and Isabella, between Enrique and Isabella?

What about Enrique and Juana of Portugal, and their daughter? Do you question the legitimacy?

Did you find anything lacking in the storytelling of Part 1? Something you wanted to read a little more about? I remember reading of Isabella's mother (and her mental stability); and also a previous read showed Isabella as feeling destined to marry Ferdinand from an early age so this telling was a little different.

Marie's thoughts:
For the most part, I have viewed Isabella as an over-zealous religious fanatic because of the persecution she perpetrated. There was no tolerance on her part, but the times were so different during her reign. The level of piety was directly related to how she lived (and salvation at death), so a certain amount of understanding of many factors needs to be developed before laying judgement on Isabella.

I had previously read Castile for Isabella by Jean Plaidy, and By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan. These novels have helped shape my opinion of Isabella, but now Gortner's will help to humanize her a bit more as it gives me some understanding behind Isabella's nature.

Michelle's thoughts:
I too read By Fire, By Water and that book portrayed Isabella in a very bad light, which was to be expected based on the point of view it was told from...the very people Isabella persecutes with her expulsion of the Jews.

I have read the entire book already because I was on a book tour for it, but I will stick to the first section to go along with the read-along.  I found it fascinating that it seems all (or most) of the great queens seem to find their way to the throne having gone through great peril.  Isabella lived a very precarious period under her half brother, Enrique, while her brother was forming a rebellion.  In the book, her loyal companion likens it to divine providence that things continue to go in Isabella's favor.  Perhaps it's true.  What Gortner does so well is bringing across the human side of these great women.  One can't help but feel a connection with Isabella.

What I found ironic was the fact that Isabella and Fernando end up naming one of their daughters, Juana.  I realize that Fernando's mother's name was also Juana, but to use the name of her stepmother, Enrique's dreadful queen, seemed odd.  And yes, I do question the legitimacy of Juana and Enrique's daughter, although I have not read very much in regards to the history of this subject.

I do hope that you're enjoying this wonderful book!


The next discussion post: July 14, Saturday.
Scheduled to Read to page 215 (end of part II)

Gortner's writing style always makes me breeze through his works, so don't feel guilty if you read ahead (like me!). Just jot down some notes so you'll have them ready for the scheduled discussion posts.

Don't forget, the author C.W. Gortner will be visiting the discussion posts at his leisure, so feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments. There will also be a small giveaway at the end of the read along for the most active participant.

July 06, 2012

An Honourable Estate by Elizabeth Ashworth

Please welcome the author of An Honourable Estate, Elizabeth Ashworth:

The Legend of Mab’s Cross
-Elizabeth Ashworth

Mab’s Cross is an old wayside cross that is now placed outside a primary school in Wigan, in the north of England. Worn by the weather, it isn’t much to look at and you might pass it by without a second glance if you didn’t know the story that was attached to it. The legend tells that Lady Mabel de Haigh walked barefoot to this cross from her home at Haigh Hall as a penance for her adultery.

The story is well known locally and came to the attention of the novelist Sir Walter Scott. He writes about it in the introduction to his novel The Betrothed.

“The tradition, which the author knew very early in life, was told to him by the late Lady Balcarras. He was so much struck with it, that being at that time profuse of legendary lore, he inserted it in the shape of a note to Waverley, the first of his romantic offences. Had he then known, as he now does, the value of such a story, it is likely that, as directed in the inimitable receipt for making an epic poem, preserved in the Guardian, he would have kept it for some future opportunity.”

There are various versions of the legend and the one which Sir Walter Scott drew on can be found in the Bradshaigh Roll, an ornamental pedigree drawn up by Randle Holme of Chester in 1647. It recounts how Sir William Bradshaw married Mabel Norris, the heiress of Blackrod and Haigh. After the marriage he was absent for ten years in the ‘holy wars’ and when he returned he found that Mabel had married a Welsh knight. On Sir William’s return the intruder fled, but William chased him and killed him at Newton Park where a red coloured stone still supposedly marks the spot of the murder.

In his preface, Scott goes on to discuss the real people and places associated with the legend. He says:

There were many vestiges around Haigh Hall, both of the Catholic penances of the Lady Mabel, and the history of this unfortunate transaction in particular; the whole history was within the memory of man portrayed upon a glass window in the hall, where unfortunately it has not been preserved. Mab's Cross is still extant. An old ruinous building is said to have been the place where the Lady Mabel was condemned to render penance, by walking hither from Haigh Hall barefooted and barelegged for the performance of her devotions. This relic, to which an anecdote so curious is annexed, is now unfortunately ruinous.”

Although the story of Sir William and Lady Mabel is known as a legend, there is some truth in it. They were real people and are buried in a chantry chapel at Wigan parish church. Their effigies can still be seen there.

Another 19th century Lancashire novelist and historian, John Roby, who also wrote a version of the legend in his book Traditions of Lancashire remarked in 1829 that, “Time and whitewash have altogether defaced the effigies of the knight and lady on the tomb.” After that, some restoration work was been done. The effigy of Mabel was re-chiselled and a new effigy of Sir William was made.

The original Haigh Hall was demolished in the early 1800s to make way for a new house that can be seen today. Canon Bridgeman in his History of Wigan Church and Manor says that the original hall had a gallery, which was said to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Mabel, as well as a chapel and a confessional.

In the 1930s, Rev. T.C. Porteus, who was a local clergyman and historian, wrote a booklet called New Light on the Mab’s Cross Legend and in it Porteus compares the legendary stories with the historical events of the time.

Sir William was a Member of Parliament for Lancashire in the 6th, 8th and 19th years of the reign of Edward II – before and after his long absence from home. He was, at first, a follower of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and was named amongst the earl’s adherents in a pardon granted for the death of Piers Gaveston. But in 1315 he joined the Banastre Rebellion. Porteus points out that the seven years when William was absent from home coincide with the years from the failed rebellion of 1315 until the execution of the Earl of Lancaster as a traitor in 1322. An inquiry into the ownership of the lands at Haigh in June 1318, states that William Bradshaw had been outlawed.

In 1319 Lady Mabel stated that her husband was dead. She is said to have married a second husband, but there is no documentary evidence and the suggested identities of the man range from ‘a Welsh knight’, Sir Henry Teuther, Osmond Neville to Sir Peter Lymesey, who is mentioned in the 1318 enquiry when Mabel is described as ‘intruding’ on the lands – in other words refusing to give them up.

After the execution of Thomas of Lancaster, Sir William Bradshaw received a pardon from the king and returned home, taking up his seat in parliament once again in 1328. The matters of Lady Mabel’s bigamous marriage and her subsequent penance remain open to speculation. Whether she did walk barefoot to the stone cross, once, or even weekly, is not known for sure. But as Sir Walter Scott and I agree, it’s a wonderful story for a novelist.

*Elizabeth Ashworth’s novel An Honourable Estate, based on the legend of Mab’s Cross in now available as a paperback and an ebook from Amazon.