Chocolate. Lovers. Novel. #SweetonYouTour

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Warning: This novel will make you want to eat chocolate. And I’m not talking M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. You may as well visit your favorite candy shop and pick up some of the good stuff right now, before you read Sweet on You.

That’s because Britt, the heroine of the novel, owns a gourmet chocolate shop; her family and friends, including Zander, her longtime friend who’s had a longtime crush on her, get to taste-test her creations.

Sweet on You

I’ve been waiting for Sweet on You for more than two years: that’s when I read the prequel to the Bradford Sisters romance trilogy, Then Came You. I have to admit, Britt’s chocolate shop had me intrigued from the start. That must be a wonderful place to work! And Merryweather, where the Bradford family lives, sounds like the perfect small town.

What’s inside the book? A fun group of sisters, all successful young business owners. An intriguing mystery. And an irritatingly blind-to-his-feelings-for-her main character, who has no idea that her good friend Zander would give anything — except her friendship — to be more than just a friend.

Here’s the story of Sweet on You:

Britt Bradford and Zander Ford have been the best of friends since they met thirteen years ago. Unbeknown to Britt, Zander has been in love with her for just as long.

Independent and adventurous Britt channels her talent into creating chocolates at her hometown shop. Zander is a bestselling author who’s spent the past 18 months traveling the world. He’s achieved a great deal but still lacks the only thing that ever truly mattered to him — Britt’s heart.

When Zander’s uncle dies of mysterious causes, he returns to Merryweather, Washington, to investigate, and Britt is immediately there to help. Although this throws them into close proximity, both understand that an attempt at romance could jeopardize their once-in-a-lifetime friendship. But while Britt is determined to resist any change in their relationship, Zander finds it increasingly difficult to keep his feelings hidden.

As they work together to uncover his uncle’s tangled past, will the truth of what lies between them also, finally, come to light?

Last in the Series

This book is third in the Bradford Sisters trilogy, and there’s a prequel too, which will definitely hook you on these characters and their charming town. Check out my reviews of the other novels in the series:

then came youThen Came You (Bradford Sisters Prequel). This novella that sets the stage for the Bradford Sisters Romance series: it’s the story of the three sisters’ early life with their father, Garner Bradford, heir to a huge shipping empire. The story is told through letters, phone conversations, and journal entries.

true to youTrue to You (Bradford Sisters Romance #1). Nora Bradford, the middle daughter in the family, is a genealogist and owner/curator of a local historical village. Nora is still getting over a breakup several years ago, but she finds herself falling for the former Navy SEAL who’s hired her to locate his birth mother so he can find out more about his medical history.

falling for youFalling for You (Bradford Sisters Romance #2). Willow Bradford and her former boyfriend Corbin are thrown together by Corbin’s young niece, who wants them to help her find a long-lost aunt. Along the way, opportunities for romance abound, along with some danger as supermodel Willow is stalked by some over-the-top fans and the two of them discover the extent of an apparently squeaky-clean politician’s secret corruption. I enjoyed the character of Corbin’s niece — she’d be great in a YA spinoff!

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Image credit: Jennifer Pallian (2016) via Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

When you eat good chocolate, you don’t need a whole pound to satisfy you. Instead, you savor the candy slowly, enjoying every nibble. In the same way you anticipate the taste of a delicious candy treat but at the same time you want to make it last, you’ll read this story slowly, not rushing to get to the end.

So settle in with a nice box of chocolates, and maybe a latte, and enjoy the read.

About the Author

Becky’s a California native who attended Baylor University, met and married a Texan, and settled in Dallas. She published historical romances for the general market before putting her career on hold for several years to care for her three children. When God called her back to writing, Becky knew He meant for her to turn her attention to Christian fiction. She loves writing funny, modern, and inspirational contemporary romance! She’s the Christy Award and Carol Award winning author of My Stubborn Heart, the Porter Family series, and the Bradford Sisters Romance series.
Tour Schedule
Tour Giveaway

ONE WINNER WILL RECEIVE:
  • Tote bag highlighting Britt’s chocolate shop, Sweet Art
  • Paperback copy of Sweet on You
  • $100 Visa gift card
  • 1 pound box of See’s chocolate truffles
  • Set of chocolate scented soap
  • Box of colored pencils
  • “Tattoo” coloring book
Enter on Becky’s website HERE

Grab Our Button!


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Tortured Soul”

Scared straight: but with Purgatory.

Theresa Linden’s newest novel, Tortured Soul, is a compelling tale of a haunting, with a twist. Jeannie Lyons is pushed out of her family’s home by her older brother and into a remote cottage that also houses a gruesome “presence.” Afraid to be at home, but with nowhere else to go, Jeannie enlists the help of the sort-of-creepy guy her brother had once pushed her to date. This edge-of-the-seat story of guilt and forgiveness emphasizes the importance of praying for the souls of the deceased — and would make a great movie.

Tortured Soul front cover

Tortured Soul reminded me deeply that the deceased need our prayers — not only our deceased loved ones and friends, but in particular those who have no one to pray for them. Maybe they were alienated from family during their lives, as depicted in Linden’s novel; maybe their loved ones don’t pray. But we can, and we should.

In the Catholic elementary school I attended, the principal used the PA system before and after lunch to lead prayers. Before lunch, it was the perennial “Bless us, O Lord … ” and after lunch, we prayed in thanksgiving and then for the holy souls.

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, Almighty God, who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

As a middle-schooler, I thought it was kind of strange to pray for dead people after we’d finished our lunch and recess games. But I’d transferred from public school after fifth grade, and I was feeling late to the Catholic-school party in many ways, so I just went along with it, and didn’t think much about that prayer again … until this book reminded me of it.

Download a free set of printable bookmarks with the prayer for the holy souls, and make a commitment to pray for them every day.

Want to know more about praying for the souls in Purgatory? Theresa Linden explains the two reasons God desires our prayers for the suffering souls in an article at CatholicMom.com.

Enter for your chance to win a copy of Tortured Soul!

Pray for the Holy Souls
Window located in lower chapel of Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, MA. Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Roland West, Outcast

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Theresa Linden’s latest novel in the West Brothers series is based on a scenario that really rings true: a group whose message is “tolerance” or “acceptance” refuses to accept certain people whose moral or political views differ from their own.

In Roland West, Outcast, that group is an after-school club at a high school. In real life … it could be anywhere, and it can happen to people of any age. (It happened to me just recently, and it was just as difficult a situation to navigate in my fifties as it is for my friend’s daughter, who was approached by a large group of students at freshman orientation, trying to pressure her into joining an after-school activity where political correctness is the order of the day. I think that particular 14-year-old handled the situation with much more aplomb than I did.)

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Synopsis: For shy Roland West, speech class is synonymous with humiliation. The last thing he wants is more attention from the gossips and troublemakers of River Run High School. But when an outcast’s house is viciously vandalized, Roland needs to find the perpetrators—before they strike again. Yet nothing is as straightforward as it seems. Suspected by the police and ridiculed for his beliefs, Roland draws closer to the sinister truth. When the perpetrators threaten a good friend, can Roland overcome his fear of speaking out and expose them?

I was impressed by Roland’s strength of character. He might not have the guts to deliver an oral presentation in class, but when it comes to standing up for someone else who’s been victimized, Roland is all in — even when the person he’s trying to help doesn’t seem to want it.

Roland West, Outcast, is perfect for middle- and high-school students who are struggling to find their unique voices in a world where harmony is purported to be prized, but it’s really only unison when you listen closely.

Books in the West Brothers Series (in chronological order, not in order of publication):

Roland West, Loner (read my full review)
Life-Changing Love (read my full review)
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast 
(concurrent with Standing Strong)
Anyone But Him (read my full review)

I asked Theresa Linden about the order of the novels, as they’re not all published in chronological order; I was wondering if that made it particularly challenging for an author. (This book does work as a standalone, but I’m all about reading the full series to get the best sense of each character.)

Q: Is it hard to bounce around in the West Brothers’ timeline? Your last book was several years ahead of this one. It must be tough to make sure you don’t say anything in that one that would mess up what you had set up in Anyone But Him.

A: Standing Strong takes place at roughly the same time as Outcast, with one scene in both stories but shown from different perspectives, so that was a bit tricky. I also had to make sure the weather was right, the conversations in the driving scene, and other events. And I was thinking about Anyone But Him whenever I had Caitlyn and Jarret in the same scene. Fun! But, yes, a bit of a challenge. For all of the books going forward (I’ll write at least one more: the Confirmation story) I have to make sure Jarret comes across as being a bad boy, even though he’s changed now, because that’s how Caitlyn saw him.

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About the author: Theresa Linden is the author of award-winning faith-filled fiction that weaves the natural with the supernatural. She has eight published novels, including a dystopian trilogy, contemporary young adult fiction, a short story in the anthology Secrets: Visible & Invisible and two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body. She holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild. Her books are featured on CatholicTeenBooks.com, Catholic Reads, and Virtue Works Media. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in Elyria with her husband and three teenage boys. 

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Charlotte’s Honor

Charlotte’s Honor, the second book in the “Great War Great Love” series for young-adult readers, is the story of Charlotte, a medical volunteer near Soissons, France. Charlotte, whose parents are deceased and whose brother died in action, has a heart for aiding the most critically wounded patients, patiently comforting the dying soldiers. She shows her strength when she volunteers to stay behind with these patients and a surgeon when the field hospital is evacuated due to enemy fire.

Charlotte’s unique combination of devotion and grit attracts the attention of Dr. K, whose own heartbreak steers him away from pursuing a relationship with her. Another volunteer is jealous of the time Dr. K spends with Charlotte and tries to undermine Charlotte’s character. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers a cryptic note in a hidden old chapel, a note which leads to a surprising discovery.

I appreciated the connection to Julia’s Gifts in this novel. Charlotte was a friend of Julia, so the stories, which take place concurrently, intertwined nicely. And while I’m not trying to judge a book by its cover, I will say that the chapel on the cover of Charlotte’s Honor is exactly the way I’d imagined it (I read an advance electronic copy long before seeing the cover art).

Charlotte's Honour Front Cover sm

About the other books in the “Great War Great Love” series:

Julia’s Gifts (Book #1 Great War Great Love) As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Disheartened by the realities of war, will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will Julia’s naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?” From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

Ella’s Promise (Book #3 Great War Great Love) The daughter of German immigrants, Ella is an American nurse who, because of the time period, was discouraged from continuing her studies to become a doctor. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France, to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own “Great Love” in the last place she would expect to meet him. Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

About the author: Ellen Gable is an award-winning author of nine books, editor, self-publishing book coach, speaker, publisher, NFP teacher, book reviewer, and instructor in the Theology of the Body for Teens. Her books have been downloaded nearly 700,000 times on Kindle and some of her books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and French. The mother of five adult sons, Ellen (originally from New Jersey) now lives with her husband of 36 years, James Hrkach, in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada.

Find Ellen at:
Blog: Plot Line and Sinker
Full Quiver Publishing 
Amazon Author Page
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Goodreads
Pinterest
LinkedIn

CH Book Tour Promo 100 (1)


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Where You Lead” by Leslea Wahl

You might think, from the title, that Leslea Wahl’s new novel for teens is Gilmore Girls fan fiction. You’d be wrong.

The “You” in Where You Lead isn’t a character in the novel at all. It’s God — and that’s a really cool angle in a YA book.

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In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novels for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing Frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, Nick (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker.

Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner.

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The sense of place in this novel really struck me. Leslea Wahl lived in Washington, DC, as a young adult, and between her own experience in our nation’s capital, plus plenty of careful research, she makes the setting come alive. It’s been decades since I’ve visited DC, but now I have a mental list of places I’d love to see if we ever return there.

Where You Lead is recommended for readers in middle school and up.

Do you want to win a free book? Leslea is hosting a Treasure Hunt through October 15, with 10 chances to win!

I still hear that Carole King song in my head when I see the title, but I think the lyrics definitely apply to this story.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

“It’s OK to Start with You” and Physical Self-Care

Self Care

It’s not selfish to take good care of yourself.

Why is that so difficult for us to understand? I’m no exception — especially when it comes to physical self-care. (Which is why I thought it was hilarious when author Julia Hogan invited me to help introduce her new book, It’s OK to Start with You, by concentrating on physical self-care.)

When it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the poster child for excuses. I’ll get all that out of the way right now. Hogan enumerates four ways we take care of ourselves physically:

  • Sleep. I’m a poor sleeper, and often I’m woken up in the night by TheKid’s glucose monitor — he’s not a poor sleeper, so he sleeps through those alarms. There I am at 4 AM, rummaging in the fridge for apple juice. On the plus side, I know I can’t function well with little sleep, so I do make the effort to get to bed well before 10 PM, since I wake up at 5 AM. I don’t see much I can change here.
  • Nutrition. Yes, I have a food blog that features nutrition labels for every recipe so people with diabetes or other dietary issues can get carb counts. I also have the remains of a 4-pound bag of M&Ms in my desk drawer. That’s a problem.
  • Exercise. I thought I’d make a commitment to exercising for the week leading up to this article. Later that day, as I was walking (to get ice cream … I was on vacation!) my left knee buckled under me, so I slowly made my way back to where we were staying, without any ice cream, and I’m not going to be taking any power walks around the neighborhood anytime soon. Even with the knee brace, it’s hurting.
  • Body image. Now, this I can work on, sore knee and all. No excuses.

To be honest (and if nothing else, this book is all about honesty), I think the area of body image is the one where I need the most help. Other issues (except for sleep) stem from that.

Why don’t I take better care of myself?

For one, I’m lazy. Self-care takes time. But Hogan notes, “the way we treat ourselves betrays what we really think of ourselves” (20).

OUCH.

She’s right.

I like that Hogan, right up front, emphasizes that self-care is not an excuse to behave selfishly (11). Self-indulgence is not self-care, but we’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking we deserve that pumpkin-spice latte or new pair of shoes to reward ourselves for merely getting through the day or the week.

I have a long way to go.

“Instead of aiming for ‘perfection,’ aim for appreciating the body you have been given and the amazing things it can do” (76).

While my body can’t do all the amazing things right now because of that knee injury, and it may never look picture-perfect since I’m 53 and, um, allergic to exercise, it’s nurtured three children and can still, even with a knee injury, do the laundry and go to the supermarket to get fresh vegetables for dinner. (I might milk it a bit when it comes to housecleaning, though.)

This is a book you’re meant to write in. I didn’t only write in mine — I underlined those points that I’m going to need to reread until they sink in. Or until I let them sink in. There are places in the book to work through self-care action plans. I decided to focus on two physical areas, and I chose steps that I thought were realistic and measurable.

My 3-step plan to improve body image:

  • Work on my wardrobe. If it doesn’t fit and flatter, it’s out. I made an appointment for a clothing-donation pickup and have already filled three bags. I’ll try on skirts and pants when moving is a little easier. Also, I want to reserve sweatpants for exercising and relaxing at home. If I’m going to leave the house, I should look better than that.
  • Get a haircut. I looked back in my planner. My last haircut was June 6.
  • Moisturize. I don’t do makeup. And I usually skip basic skin care too.

[Put] in the necessary time and effort to groom and dress in a way that communicates your worth (77-78).

My 3-step plan for better nutrition:

  • Eat more protein – add a protein source to every meal.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – add a fruit/vegetable/both to every meal.
  • Stop eating junk food in the office. I’ll eat less junk if I have to go downstairs to get it. I’ll leave a jar of mixed nuts in the office in case I need a snack. But I’m removing the M&Ms from my desk.

Make a conscious decision rather than letting your emotions decide when (and what) you eat (71).

Check out the YouTube playlist to get a full week of self-care challenges:

It’s OK to Start with You isn’t the kind of book you devour in one sitting, and it’s not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic.

Learn more by following author Julia Hogan on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t miss the contest on Instagram: you can win a copy of this book! To enter, visit the Instagram blog tour post and comment with the new self-care practice you will try. Contest ends Friday, September 14th, 2018 and the winner will be chosen at random on Monday, September 17th, 2018.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Short-Story Anthology for Teens from CatholicTeenBooks

A brand-new #1 new release on Amazon is a terrific introduction to the work of 7 Catholic authors! Secrets: Visible and Invisible, a short-story collection compiled by CatholicTeenBooks.com, reached #1 in the “Values and Virtues Fiction for Teens” category in its first 24 hours!

I’m very familiar with the work of many of the authors whose stories are featured here: Carolyn Astfalk, T.M. Gaouette, Theresa Linden, Cynthia T. Toney, and Leslea Wahl. Two other authors are new to me: Susie Peek and Corinna Turner — and I’ll definitely be taking a look at these authors’ full-length work after getting a taste of their writing.

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Here’s a bit about the 7 stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • In a dystopian future, an innocent picnic turns deadly!
  • Elijah knows nothing of an elderly stranger’s secret past — until her disappearance changes everything.
  • A mysterious, ever-changing painting alarms a group of teens.
  • A cannonball took Dario’s legs … Will he lose his soul too?
  • The arrival of a mysterious girl challenges everything about Jason’s life.
  • An unlicensed driver. His dad’s truck. What could possibly go wrong?
  • An old tale of murder and forbidden love leads to a modern-day treasure hunt.

As a rule, I don’t endorse a book I haven’t read. I’m proud to endorse Secrets and I’ll state right now that I’ll definitely be reading it again. Here’s my endorsement:

This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection.

From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

This book is appropriate for readers in middle-school and up, and would be an excellent addition to a school or classroom library. As described by Mark Hart of Life Teen International, who provides the foreword, “Each story reveals something different about the human heart and our constant (though, often veiled) desire for truth and virtue.”

Want to win a copy for your teen?

Enter the blog tour giveaway!

Visit the other stops on the Blog Tour for more chances to win:

Blog Tour Schedule:

July 4              Steve McEvoy                        Book Reviews and More

July 5              Leslea Wahl                            Leslea Wahl

July 6              Barb Szyszkiewicz                 Franciscan Mom

July 7              Shower of Roses                     Shower of Roses

July 8              Carolyn Astfalk                      My Scribbler’s Heart

July 9              Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur  Spiritual Woman

July 9              Sarah Damm                           Sarah Damm

July 10            Corinna Turner                       Unseen Books

July 11            Christina Weigand                  Palace of Twelve Pillars

July 11            Virginia Lieto                         Virginia Lieto

July 12            Theresa Linden                       Things Visible & Invisible

July 13            T.M. Gaouette                        T.M. Gaouette

July 14            Karina Fabian                         Fabianspace

July 16            Therese Heckenkamp             Therese Heckenkemp

July 17            Ellen Gable Hrkach                Plot Line & Sinker

July 17            Barb Szyszkiewicz                 CatholicMom

July 18            Catholic Teen Books              Catholic Teen Books


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Anyone But Him

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Theresa Linden’s newest Catholic novel, Anyone But Him, centers on the theme of forgiveness and making a new start. Some of my favorite characters from Roland West, Loner and the other novels in the West Brothers series are all grown up in this novel directed at the new-adult audience.

In a surprising twist right off the bat, Caitlyn wakes up one morning to discover she’s married to her friend Roland’s bad-boy older brother, Jarret — and she’s horrified. She also can’t remember anything that’s happened in the past two or three years. How could she be married to the man who’d tormented her good friend for so long?Her coworkers at the private detective agency aren’t much help, and Jarret’s trying to solve the problem by keeping her locked in the house and not letting her call her family. There’s plenty of suspense to keep this story moving along, between strange encounters with both Caitlyn and Jarret’s coworkers and Caitlyn’s various escape attempts. Jarret seems like he’s changed since high school, and Caitlyn’s biggest mission is to find out if that’s for real.

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I like that Theresa Linden has continued the West Brothers series into the characters’ young adulthood, and that she’s framed this novel for the new-adult audience, which has protagonists and readers in the 18-30 age bracket. The first four West Brothers novels are for teens and young adults, but this one, I think, is better aimed at new-adult readers.

The West Brothers Series (in order)

Roland West, Loner (read my full review)
Life-Changing Love (read my full review)
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Anyone But Him

About Theresa Linden

square theresaTheresa Linden is the author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction. Raised in a military family, she developed a strong patriotism and a sense of adventure. Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She has six published novels, and two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body (Full Quiver Publishing). She holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the International Writers Society. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in northeast Ohio with her husband and three teenage boys. To learn more, visit TheresaLinden.com, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Julia’s Gifts

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When you open up Ellen Gable’s newest novel, Julia’s Gifts, prepare to be charmed.

As you continue reading, prepare to weep a little — and smile a little more.

Julia’s Gifts begins in Philadelphia during World War I, but the scene quickly shifts to France as the plucky twenty-year-old protagonist gamely makes her way to the battlefront to serve in a field hospital.

Before crossing the Atlantic, however, Julia is busy purchasing Christmas gifts for her family. Years before, when her mother suggested that she begin to pray for her future spouse, Julia decided to take things one step further and make or purchase a Christmas gift for her beloved each year. She already has two pairs of hand-knit socks, plus a leather-bound pocket notebook,  stashed away; this year, determined that this will be the year she meets her beloved, she overspends on a beautiful engraved pocket watch.

I loved Julia’s hopefulness, shown that December of 1917 when she spent nearly all she had on a gift for someone she had not yet met. These gifts figure significantly in the story — because she brings them to a war zone with her, in the hopes that she’ll get to give them to her one true love. Instead, she finds that she’s called to sacrifice them in ways she never imagined.

 

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Because I enjoyed Julia’s story so much, I was happy to learn that this is the first of a trilogy called “Great War Great Love.” Here’s what you can expect from the next two books:

Charlotte’s Honor is Book #2 and takes place at approximately the same time as Julia’s Gifts, but focuses on a different female protagonist, Charlotte, who finds her purpose in life when she begins working in the death ward and holding men’s hands as they die.  She is attracted to Canadian Dr. Paul Kilgallen. During an advance by the enemy, everyone at the field hospital evacuates, except for Charlotte and Dr. K.  They remain hidden in the basement of the chateau to take care of the terminally ill men and those soldiers who can’t be moved. Charlotte becomes convinced that Paul is her own “beloved.” But when she loses contact with Paul, she fears not only for his safety, but begins to doubt his love for her.  Charlotte’s Honor will be released in late 2018.

Ella’s Promise is Book #3 in the series. It is about the daughter of German immigrants, Ella, an American nurse who (because of the time period) was discouraged from continuing on in her studies to be a doctor.  She works as a nurse for three years in Philadelphia but reads medical books every opportunity she gets. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own beloved in the last place she would expect to meet him.  Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

Julia’s Gifts is written for a YA audience and will appeal to young teen readers as well as adults. Be assured that while it is a historical romance, it is a “clean romance” and you can feel safe handing it to your daughters to enjoy — as long as they have the stomach for the inevitable description of war injuries.

Read the first few pages:

December 17, 1917

The bustling streets of Center City Philadelphia shimmered with electric lights, heralding that Christmas was near. Julia Marie Murphy lifted her head and gazed upward. The night sky was filled with snow clouds, the air brisk. She pulled on her gloves and buttoned the top of her coat. Her thoughts turned to her future husband. Dear God in heaven, please protect my beloved.

Tens of thousands of American men had already enlisted to fight in this “Great War.” The gentlemen that Julia knew seemed anxious to join, and Julia thanked God that her three brothers were too young to fight.

In a few short weeks, it would be 1918.  All of her father’s friends and acquaintances expected the war to end soon, hopefully before the middle of the year.  But 1918 held far more significance for Julia.  This would be the year that she would turn 21.

She approached Lit Brothers department store, admiring the display windows that were outlined with colored electric lights. Julia was thankful that it was Monday. If it were Thursday, the ban on electric lights (in support of the war effort) would mean the windows would be dark.

Julia stared, transfixed, through the window at the tall display. Shimmery red fabric hung from a back wall, a beautiful sterling silver pocket watch lay on top of a cylindrical pedestal.  Her eyes widened when she saw the price tag: $12.25, almost 20 percent of her annual salary. But it was beautiful and every man needed one. The price notwithstanding, this would be a perfect gift for her beloved. Yes, it was extravagant, especially during wartime. Yes, there were less expensive items she could purchase. It didn’t matter. This was the ideal gift.

After purchasing it, she took it to the engraving department on the second floor. Behind the counter, the tall, lanky middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache smiled. “What would you like engraved on this?”

“To my beloved, next line, all my love, Julia.”

His eyebrows lifted.  “I’m certain the gentleman would prefer to have his Christian name engraved on this lovely timepiece.  Don’t you agree?”

“Well, yes, I imagine he would.  But I don’t really know his name or who he is yet.”

The man’s mouth fell open and he stuttered.  “I’m..I’m…s…sorry, Miss. I…I don’t understand.  You’ve bought an expensive pocket watch for someone you don’t know?”

Julia sighed.  She shouldn’t have said anything.

“Please just use the words I gave you.”

The man nodded and regarded Julia with an expression of suspicious curiosity, a look one might give a person in an asylum.

“How long will it take?”

“For the engraving?  Ten days.  Sorry, Miss, but you won’t have it in time for Christmas.”

“That’s all right.” Julia turned and walked a few steps and heard the salesman mumble, “Now there’s an odd girl.  Buying a gift for someone she doesn’t know. Tsk tsk.”

Sighing, she checked her own wristwatch and hurried out of the store to begin the three-block walk to her trolley stop.  If she didn’t get there in time for the five p.m. streetcar, she would be waiting half an hour.

This year Julia was determined that she would meet her beloved, the man for whom she had been praying these past four years. Why hadn’t she met him yet?  Some of her friends were already married. Her beloved was out there and she would find him.  Yes, 1918 would also be the year that she would meet her beloved.

Each December, Julia wondered what she would buy her beloved for Christmas. Last year, she searched different stores but found nothing special. She finally discovered — and bought — a brown leather pocket journal at a specialty store at Broad and Bigler Streets. She didn’t know whether her beloved would be the sort to write in one, but it seemed like an appropriate gift, especially since it had a delicate leaf embossed on the cover. The year before, she had bought a sterling silver Miraculous Medal because her beloved would be Catholic.

That first year, her mother suggested that she begin praying for her future husband.  After a few weeks of doing so, Julia felt inspired to do more. It had been the week before Christmas, so she decided that she would buy or make him a Christmas gift each year until they met.  With no job and no money that year, Julia knit him two pairs of socks, one blue-green and one green-brown, with finely-made yarn that her mother had given her.

The fact that she had made or bought gifts, and had spent hard-earned money for her future husband, had not pleased her father as he thought it too impractical and sentimental. Her mother, however, had declared that it was a beautiful gesture. Of course, if Mother knew how much she had spent on the most recent gift, she was pretty certain her mother wouldn’t be happy.

Julia’s Gifts is available on Kindle and in paperback from Full Quiver Publishing.
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Forgiving Mother

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Born of a mother-daughter relationship that goes way beyond “it’s complicated,” Marge Steinhage Fenelon’s Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace (new from Servant Books) speaks to the heart of those who carry the burden of wounds from the past.

forgiving mother

I need to state right up front that I have a good relationship with my own mom. But this book about healing touched me deeply — because there are relationships in my life that have been difficult and hurtful, and I’ve hung onto those hurts for too long.

Citing the Gospel story where Jesus heals the blind, crippled man at the Sheep’s Gate (John 5: 2-9), Marge shares this thought that anyone who’s holding onto old hurts can relate to:

Do you want to be made well? Believe it or not, for a very long time, my answer to that question was no. I was afraid of what it would take to be made well, so I preferred to stay just as I was, ignoring my pain and hiding my past. (Chapter 1)

Healing is hard. It takes work. Jesus isn’t going to wave a magic wand and make everything better. We have to want it, and we have to work for it.

Marge’s experience of healing hinged on developing her relationship with the Blessed Mother, noting that

God decides and provides the means by which you eventually can let go of the past, live in the present, and look to the future with hope and confidence. There are two keys to attaining this: trust in God and love of Mary. … Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer; he will mend your wounds and restore you to health and vibrancy. Mother Mary will nurture and protect you. In her tender, loving way, she will accompany you each step of the way. She is, and wants to be in every way possible, truly your mother. … [Mary] is anxious to fill the void that has been left in you. She hears—has heard and will hear—your cries of distress, and she anxiously waits to answer them. (Chapter 9)

Marge’s book is a primer on forgiveness. It’s not easy to forgive, especially those hurts we know we’ll never be able to forget. Quoting St. John of the Cross, she notes in Chapter 3 that “the devil can use our memories to gain influence over our souls.”

Healing our hearts, healing our memories, healing our relationships (when possible) is at the heart of this book and the novena prayers accompanying it. The titles of the novena prayers speak to the essence of this book:
Day 1: Lord, give me the grace to want to heal
Day 2: Mary, let me grow closer to you
Day 3: Mary, help me look back
Day 4: Mary, let me see myself as a child of God
Day 5: Mary, let me see my mother as a child of God
Day 6: Mary, let me be transformed in the Spirit
Day 7: Mary, draw me into your heart
Day 8: Mary, let me grow
Day 9: Mary, let me be healed

Marge’s honesty and courage in sharing the harrowing details of the abuse she suffered from her mother as well as the redeeming power of the relationship she developed with Mary, Mother of God and Mother to us all, will encourage any reader who needs to find healing, forgiveness and hope in a difficult relationship. Forgiving Mother is not easy to read. The prayers are not easy to pray — but God’s mercy, freely given, becomes easier to accept as healing begins.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book via Netgalley, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.