The Magician

The Donora Story Collection Book 3

Fiction - Historical - Personage
433 Pages
Reviewed on 05/31/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

The Magician (The Donora Story Collection) by Kathleen Shoop is the third book in a collection focused on a small mill town in Pennsylvania, called Donora. The Magician is a fictionalized version of perhaps Donora’s greatest export and son, the Major League Hall-of-Fame baseball player, Stan Musial. Musial, who won three world series titles in a lengthy career with the St Louis Cardinals, grew up poor and struggling during some of the toughest times in America, the Great Depression. Of Czech and Polish immigrant parents, the Musials lives, like most of those in Donora at the time, revolved around the poisonous and dangerous wire works and zinc factories that lined the Monongahela River. We follow Stan from his early days as he, his brother, and their friends do whatever they can to continue playing the game they love, baseball, even if they have to use old broomsticks as bats and homemade balls to hit. To young boys (and the odd girl) who dream of major league stardom, whatever they need to do to fulfill their destinies, they will do. We watch as Stan matures into a strong young man, with all the potential to succeed but will he have what it takes to lift himself out of the mill town and into national prominence as a major league ballplayer?

The Magician is a book that sings to the reader’s sense of justice and fairness. Life for Stan, his long-suffering mother, and his siblings could not have been harder. The working man’s lot in the 1920s and '30s was not an easy one. Mill workers rose and fell on the economic climate and often on the whims and petty arrogance of their bosses and mill owners. I loved the positivity and clarity that Stan’s mother Mary brought to the family, especially in the face of a proud, but also frightened immigrant husband, whose vision never raised much above being a mill worker and earning a few dollars for his family. The sense of family and trust in something better for the Musials shone through every page. Stan, as a character, was more sensitive, caring, and lacking in self-confidence than one would expect to find from a “jock” and yet in many ways that is what endeared him to me as a reader. I liked the author’s contrivance of an elderly compatriot of Stan in a nursing home in 2019, conveying Stan’s story to his own grandson, who was on a baseball journey of his own. This just gave the story a reality that was refreshing. This is not a short read, but it is beautifully written, and the pages fly by. If you are a baseball nut, this is required reading, in my opinion, but, if like me, baseball is a foreign language, it is still an absorbing and telling tale of familial love, determination, courage, and the ability to see the best in even the worst situations. I loved this story and can highly recommend it.

Tammy Ruggles

The Magician (The Donora Story Collection Book 3) by Kathleen Shoop is a deep, fascinating dive into the life and legacy of baseball legend Stan Musial. Shoop reaches into the soul of the story to deliver a gem to baseball and Musial fans everywhere. But this engaging historical novel doesn't begin in a typical fashion, meaning that it doesn't begin with the birth of the subject in focus. This one begins quite creatively and effectively in 2019, with 92-year-old retirement home resident Patryk Rusek running from the facility, wearing only his brand new Nikes, hoping to meet his great-grandson Owen at an agreed-upon location. But Owen doesn't show, so Patryk has no choice but to go back to his room at Blue Horizon. Upon doing so, he begins to read from his impressive hand-drawn journal of Donora, enticing at least half of the facility's staff and other residents into his room, charming them with childhood memories of THE Stan Musial, famed baseball player. As Patryk reads, and as we read, we are transported back to 1920, where Mary Musial is expecting to give birth to another baby, Stanley, with the help of a midwife. The midwife declares that the baby will live an amazing life, and young Stanley's physical prowess at a young age seems to fulfill that prophecy.

Shoop's wonderful story leads us through the Depression, Stanley's formative years, and when his awesome athletic ability is discovered by coaches, scouts, and the press. But his rise to baseball fame comes with complications, self-doubt, and a possible price. I really like the way the author constructs and executes her story in a unique way, and the life story of Musial is told well, giving you a peek inside his world, as he knew it, before he became famous. You fall deep into Stanley's beginning, thanks to the author's exquisite attention to detail and descriptions. The dialogue is fantastic. History, along with the Musials, comes to life, and you get more than a slice-of-life perspective--you get the whole Musial pie. The Magician (The Donora Story Collection Book 3) by Kathleen Shoop is a Musial fan's dream.

Foluso Falaye

It's 2019 in Donora, Pennsylvania. After a failed attempt to escape from Blue Horizon Retirement Community, ninety-two-year-old Patryk returns to his room and settles on reading about the famous baseball player, Stan F. Musial. Stan's story begins in 1920 with Mary Musial and her husband—Lukasz Musial—who is anxious for a son even after Mary had four daughters. Eventually, Stan is born to them under a lucky star, and his rise to fame ensues amidst pressure and, in some cases, support from family, rivals, school friends, his girlfriend, the Depression, and more. The Magician (The Donora Story Collection Book 3) by Kathleen Shoop narrates how a talented boy, raised in a Catholic home, struggles with his fears, challenges, and relationships as he pursues a baseball career and grows up to become a successful young man.

Five stars over and over again! The word "Magician" in the title hints at the magical experience adroitly encased in this rich and exquisite book. While reading The Magician, I would want to pause to do something else, but the last sentence I read would draw me back to the book because I just had to satisfy my burning curiosity. The book is fully packed with brilliant metaphors, smooth storytelling, deeply portrayed and complex characters, and an elaborate, vividly described world. I came to love the characters and understand their struggles, especially the protagonist's tumultuous experience with his father. I was amazed at how Kathleen Shoop could provide such a profound and realistic view into the mindsets and personalities of the male, female, young, and old characters alike. The Magician is strongly recommended to lovers of baseball, coming of age, and stories with strong themes of family, love, and empathy.

Samantha Gregory

The Magician: The Donora Story Collection, Book 3 by Kathleen Shoop follows Patryk Rusek, a 92-year-old man who attempts to escape from his retirement home in nothing more than a towel and a pair of Nikes. His bid for freedom is cut short, however, when he loses his towel and is returned to the home. With no way out, Patryk instead tells stories of a place called Donora and of a man who longed for a son, who went on to become a baseball hall of famer. His story takes us back in time to 1920 and through the Depression-era as Stan F. Musial faces hardship, setbacks, and loss. Having talent is one thing, but knowing how to use it is another. Stan learns that lesson the hard way as he builds his legend.

Kathleen Shoop has written an intriguing tale with The Magician: The Donora Story Collection, Book 3. It grabs you from the first page at the unusual sight of Patryk trying to run away in his towel. It kept me reading as I wanted to learn more about him and when he starts telling the story of Donora, I was hooked. I haven't read the other two books, but the story was still easy to understand. I think this would appeal to readers of historical dramas with a difference. I think the series could do well; it is a little bit different and I think it stays with you after you read it. I would definitely recommend it.

K.C. Finn

The Magician is a work of fiction in the historical drama genre and serves as the third installment of the Donora Story Collection. It is suitable for all ages and was penned by author Kathleen Shoop. The book tells the story of Stanislaw Musial and his family as he pursues his dreams of athletic excellence whilst his family tries to survive the effects of the Depression. With pressure mounting to be the one member of the household achieving his dreams, Stan begins to question his every decision as the narrator – a nursing home escapee recalling the tale a century later – paints their picture of the 1920s for working-class families.

The Magician is a historical fiction work that puts its focus on family and does some fantastic character building over the generations. The thing that I enjoyed the most about this novel was the author's ability to create these three-dimensional characters that were easy to connect with, meaning we go through the story experiencing the highs and lows alongside them. Author Kathleen Shoop does a wonderful job of entwining the story of the past with that of the present, captivating the reader's attention and keeping us thoroughly engaged throughout. Following Stan as he navigates the world will take you on an emotional journey that will have you laughing and crying, but it's an enjoyable ride which you will be pleased you went on. I would not hesitate to recommend The Magician to fans of historical fiction, and those looking for an immersive story with ties to the past and present.