Book review: Pittsburgh author pens a satisfying sequel to 'The Last letter'
July 5, 2015 12:00 AM
"The Road Home" by Kathleen Shoop The Letter Series Book 2.
By Lorinda Hayes
Oakmont’s Kathleen Shoop continues the historical romance series she began in “The Last Letter” with “The Road Home (The Letter Series, Book 2).” It takes readers to 1891, a time of separation between Jeanie Arthur and 14-year-old twins Katherine and Tommy.
"THE ROAD HOME (THE LETTER SERIES, BOOK 2)"
By Kathleen Shoop Oakglen Press ($17).
Jeanie, along with intellectually disabled daughter Yale, are at rock bottom, living in a poorhouse after countless promises to reunite with her twins. Daughter Katherine has been boarded with several Midwest families as household help.
When the story opens, she is sewing, cooking and cleaning for a farm family of Christian revivalists with questionable values and a huge tax debt. Her brother Tommy is surviving by his skill and wits in the woods, but has a letter of recommendation from a wealthy benefactor whose grandchild he saved during a bank robbery.
Jeanie has lost track of the twins, and following a life saving act of grace from a companion in the poor house, hopes that she can finally pull them together to live a much simpler life than the one they had before her ex-husband, Frank, lost everything in an oil scheme.
Jeanie’s goal is to rebuild their lives and to move forward together after several disastrous losses that resulted in the death of oldest son, James, and her subsequent divorce from her philandering husband.
Moving ahead to 1905, Katherine and Tommy have both married, but are reunited at Jeanie’s funeral after she dies of stomach cancer. Yale is grown, Katherine is a happily married young mother and Tommy is estranged from his wife, Emma, who chooses not to join him for the funeral.
Much to Katherine and Tommy’s surprise, the funeral fills with mourners who have wonderful stories to tell of Jeanie’s goodwill toward them. Obviously the road to healing between the twins and their mother has been rocky. Perhaps the next novel in the series will give readers more details.
“The Road Home” still reads well as a standalone novel. Ms. Shoop pulls details of the family’s former life into the story without the continual repetition of details that can be either an annoyance, or a device to stretch a shorter story into an epic one.
There are certainly notable events in this book: a blizzard that kills hundreds of children on the prairie, a wealthy family mansion ransacked by friends and neighbors who naively participated in an oil con led by Frank Arthur and Jeanie’s late father, a lewd farmer whose wandering eyes and hands keep Katherine on watch at the last home she lives in, and her dangerous escape from her servitude to the same abusive family.
The links to the events in “The Last Letter,” the excitement of the events in the current book and the hints at what is to come in the next installment combine to keep a new reader interested. Ms. Shoop based this series on family letters given to her by her own mother. Her great-great-grandparents’ young marriage, prairie life, seven children and a subsequent divorce were detailed in that family correspondence. Ms. Shoop then researched the lives of the wealthy, the divorced, the evangelist, the farmer and the orphan to build a family saga that is fresh and insightful.
In an era of psychological self-diagnosis, economic reform, public assistance and necessary labor laws, Ms. Shoop touches us with the lives of three people who have lost everything, yet who have hope for a secure, if not wealthy, future with no safety nets to protect them. If Jeanie, Katherine and Tommy Arthur could do it, then why not the rest of us?
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