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

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Fatima, the Apparition that Changed the World

As the Church marks the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, it seems that everyone is reading about Fatima. Jean Heimann, longtime Catholic blogger and author of two books on the saints, offers a historical view of the Blessed Mother’s apparitions to three young children in Portugal in her new book, Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World, coming May 22 from TAN Books.

Besides a careful chronology of the six apparitions of 1917, this book provides a fascinating chapter titled “The Popes and Fatima.” This chapter explores the significance of the Fatima apparitions in Catholic life and in world history. I was surprised to learn that there were no papal visits to Fatima before 1967, although it is clear from the information in this chapter that the popes before that time all found the apparitions and the Fatima message compelling.

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This book leaves the reader wondering: how will the world continue to change as a result of the Fatima message? Heimann makes it clear what ordinary Catholics can do to effect change in the world, explaining,

Our Lady’s message was not only relevant for the time period during which it occurred. It is a message that remains relevant for us today. In fact, Pope John Paul II has told us that the message of Fatima is even more relevant for us today than it was when it was first given to the visionaries by Our Lady in 1917.

Today, we are facing the greatest spiritual battle of our time. Radical secularism has become the new communism in our Western civilization. . . . Secularism seeks to remove religion from the public square, to steal our religious freedoms, and to weaken the sanctity of human life by promoting abortion and attacking the basic tenets of Christian morality, particularly in regards to marriage and family life. (118-19)

Heimann concludes that we must follow Our Lady’s call to live the message of Fatima in our daily life.

Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World is available in both hardcover and Kindle formats; because the book is packed with compelling historical photos, I recommend the print edition so you’ll be able to enjoy the full-size pictures.

author Jean HeimannAbout the author: Jean M. Heimann is a Catholic author and a freelance writer with an M.A. in Theology, a parish minister and speaker, a psychologist and educator, and an Oblate with the Community of St. John. She is a member of the Blue Army and founder of Our Lady of Fatima Rosary and Study group. Jean is the author of Seven Saints for Seven Virtues (Servant, 2014) and Learning to Love with the Saints, A Spiritual Memoir (Mercy, 2016). Visit Jean at her website through which you can access her award-wining blog, Catholic Fire.

Visit the other stops on Jean Heimann’s Fatima Blog Tour:

May 1 – Carolyn Astfalk, My Scribbler’s Heart

May 2 – Ellen Gable, Plot, Line, and Sinker

May 3 – Virginia Lieto, VirginiaLieto.com

May 4 – AnneMarie Miller, Sacrifice of Love

May 6 – Steven R. McEvoy, Book Reviews and More

May 7 – Lisa Hendey, CatholicMom.com

May 8 – Jeannie Ewing, Love Alone Creates

May 9 – Lisa Mladinich, Amazing Catechists

May 10 – AnneMarie Miller, Sacrifice of Love

May 11 – Barb Szyszkiewicz, CatholicMom.com

May 12 – Allison Gingas, Reconciled to You

May 12 – Marge Fenelon, MargeFenelon.com

May 13 – Esther Gefroh, A Catholic Mom in Hawaii
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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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: This Dread Road

An intriguing tale of two young women, a generation apart, who must learn to live with the consequences of romantic choices they make–and one man who figures prominently in both their lives. This Dread Road, Olivia Folmar Ard’s latest novel, is the third in the Bennett Series, but it works as a standalone novel (that said, I highly encourage you to read the other books in the series as well! You can get the whole Bennett Series for less than $7 on Kindle.)

Annemarie, a college freshman far from home and the reach of her overbearing mother’s attempts to set her up with every eligible bachelor in the region, falls hard for a man her parents certainly wouldn’t approve of. Her immaturity leads her to handle all of this the wrong way, with results that prove disastrous for her family relationship, her mental health and her love life.

50 years later, that same man mentors Claire, an heiress trying to escape her own mother and her own past.

In this parallel tale, you see young people making bad decisions–often due to immaturity and a lack of communication. Ard’s focus on the two young women, years apart, proves the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Release Date: February 14, 2017
Published by: Three Amigas Press
Genre: Historical Romance, Women’s Fiction

Available from: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Createspace

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– Summary –

It’s September 1968, and Howard Knox freshman Annemarie Vanderhorst is happy to be free of her controlling mother’s societal expectations. She vows to spend her time at college wisely in pursuit of her own dreams. But before she can figure out what she wants from life, Henry Eden, the dark and handsome stranger in her philosophy class, takes over every waking thought.

Nearly half a century later, Claire James returns to Bennett after leaving her fiancé, determined to be independent for once in her life. After convincing her father to let her work for the family business, she soon realizes being a responsible adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Loathed by her coworkers, neglected by her best friend, and held captive by a terrifying secret, she doesn’t know how much more she can take.

The lives of these two women, decades apart but uncannily similar, finally intersect one fateful night. With broken hearts and hope for the future, will they find the answers they’re looking for?

This Dread Road (The Bennett Series #3)

– About the Author –

Olivia started writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its divisi15800522_10209756472760857_6955444529121609696_oon in the 2008 District III Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Montevallo in 2012, married in 2013, and published her first novel in 2014. She received a Readers Favorite five-star review for her holiday novella, ‘Tis the Season, in 2016.

Olivia lives in central Alabama with her husband JD and their cats, Buddy and Lafayette. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television, teaching herself how to cook, and playing Pokémon GO.

– Connect with the Author –

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Pinterest

– Advance Praise for This Dread Road

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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: A Sea Without a Shore

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The weary, lonely and brokenhearted are the audience for Jeannie Ewing’s new devotional, A Sea without a Shore.
Jeannie Ewing often writes on the meaning of suffering. Her words will resonate with readers who feel alone in their pain. While this book is centered on suffering, it is infused with hope. The meditations in chapter 8 (“Faith, Hope and Charity”) are some of the most powerful ones in the book. This, I’m sure, is no accident: these are powerful virtues, as they must be to conquer the despair that can so easily come to those beaten down by life’s difficulties.
These meditations are not casual or flip: they are heartfelt, reverent outpourings of the soul. The language is formal, even poetic, with a unique cadence. Written in the first person, each meditation invites the soul to cling to God in prayer.

This devotional is the kind of book you can flip through, scanning the headings to find just the meditation you need for that day.

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 About the Book

Everyone experiences suffering and trials throughout life, whether in the form of death or significant loss of a relationship, finances, a home or job, and even a pet. Loss affects us all, and we are often left feeling empty, lonely, and lost in the midst of such excruciating darkness. Others may attempt to ameliorate our fears, concerns, and struggle, but to no avail. Even our faith may seem to fail us. Jeannie Ewing understands that holy darkness may veil us in a cloud of unknowing for a time, but we don’t have to capitulate to despair. Instead, we can journey through the mysteries and misunderstandings through the eyes of faith. In A Sea Without A Shore: Spiritual Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary, and Lonely, you will find a familiar friend journeying with you throughout the often murky and tumultuous waters of grief. No matter the cause of your pain and strife, this devotional will offer short but poignant insights that open your heart to God’s love and mercy.
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 About the Author

Jeannie Ewing believes the world focuses too much on superficial happiness and then crumbles when sorrow strikes. Because life is about more than what makes us feel fuzzy inside, she writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief. Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and is the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. Jeannie was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and dozens of other radio shows and podcasts.

Facebook – Love Alone Creates: https://www.facebook.com/lovealonecreates
Click to enter for a chance to win one of two paperback copies of Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers or one of two paperback copies of A Sea Without A Shore!
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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.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Sunflowers in a Hurricane

Sunflowers in a Hurricane is the story of a life-changing summer as seen through the eyes of three characters: teenage Ruth, her single mom Cheryl and their elderly neighbor George.

Returning to her hometown after her mother’s death, Cheryl is forced to face the memories she’d tried so hard to bury. Her daughter doesn’t understand why her mom strictly forbids her to talk to boys; all she wants is a friend, and the shy paperboy is the perfect candidate. Cheryl is equally uncomfortable with Ruth’s friendship with George next door, a man haunted by the loss of his wife during childbirth and his decision to give their daughter to his sister-in-law to raise.

While George becomes the grandfather Ruth never had (and Ruth the granddaughter George never had), Cheryl grieves as she has done for thirteen years: by sulking and isolating herself. She grieves the loss of her own teenage freedom to an early pregnancy–and though she won’t admit it, she grieves her mother’s loss as well.

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It’s hard to get three voices to ring strong and true in a novel, but Anne Faye has achieved this in Sunflowers in a Hurricane. The characters will draw the reader in; their transformations throughout the story are true-to-life without being predictable.

You’ll find the first few chapters of this book at Anne Faye’s website.

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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Dying for Revenge by Dr. Barbara Golder Plus a GIVEAWAY!

Sometimes it pays off to go a little outside your comfort zone when you choose a new book to read. I don’t normally pick up medical thrillers, fearing that they might be too scary and/or gory for me. For that reason, I hesitated a  bit when I was invited to participate in this book tour.

It turns out that I had nothing to worry about when it came to Dr. Barbara Golder’s novel, Dying for Revenge. It’s heavy on the suspense with none of the blood and guts. In other words, it kept me turning pages (and pages and pages), but I was still able to sleep without nightmares and I didn’t lose my appetite.

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I can’t watch shows like CSI on TV, but the detective work connected with forensic pathology is fascinating. In Dying for Revenge, the main character is a pathologist/investigator haunted by her own grief and desire for revenge. There’s much more than a mystery in this thriller; it’s the story of a soul in torment. And I stayed up way too late reading it.

I was happy to learn that there are 10 novels planned for the Lady Doc Murders series (this is the first). I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment!

Here’s the synopsis of the novel, courtesy of FQ Publishing: 

Someone is killing the rich and famous residents of Telluride, Colorado, and the medical investigator, Dr. Jane Wallace, is on a collision course with the murderer. Compelled by profound loss and injustice, Jane will risk her own life to protect others from vengeful death, even as she exacts a high price from those who have destroyed her world. Dying for Revenge is a story of love, obsession and forgiveness, seen through the eyes of a passionate, beautiful woman trying to live her life — imperfectly but vibrantly — even if she won’t survive.

Who wants to win a copy of this novel? Simply leave a comment on this post to enter (yes, “Pick me!!!!!” counts!) I’ll leave the giveaway open until 11:59 PM Friday, June 10 and then choose one lucky winner at random. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to reply with mailing information before forfeiting the prize to a second-choice winner.

Visit the other stops on the Dying for Revenge Virtual Book Tour!

Wednesday, June 1 Ellen Gable Hrkach: Plot Line, and Sinker

Thursday, June 2  Sarah Reinhard: snoringscholar.com/

Friday, June 3, Patrice McArthur: spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com/

Saturday, June 4, A.K. Frailey: akfrailey.com/

Sunday, June 5, Erin McCole Cupp: erinmccolecupp.com

Monday, June 6 Carolyn Astfalk: My Scribbler’s Heart Blog

Tuesday, June 7 Theresa Linden: Things Visible & Invisible

and Jean Heimann: catholicfire.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, June 8 Virginia Lieto: virginialieto.com/

Thursday, June 9 Christopher Blunt: christophercblunt.wordpress.com/

and Michael Seagriff: harvestingthefruitsofcontemplation.blogspot.ca/

Friday, June 10 Therese Heckenkamp: thereseheckenkamp.com/

Saturday, June 11 Plot Line and Sinker, Interview: ellengable.wordpress.com/

The Fine Print: I was provided an advance copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. I received no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone. Your purchase of this novel through my Amazon affiliate link helps support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Learning to Love with the Saints Review and Giveaway

Jean Heimann has blogged at Catholic Fire since 2003, and I think I’ve been reading her blog for almost that long. While she covers a wide range of faith-related topics on her blog, saints have come to be her main focus.

Jean’s blog covers the who, what, when and where of the saints whose lives and example have influenced her. Her new spiritual biography, Learning to Love with the Saints, explores the how and why of those saints’ personal influence on her life. In this book, Jean shares her own surprising and inspiring faith story, tracing a path walked with growing devotion and conviction. Learn how Jean’s life was influenced by the stories of the saints.

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Jean shows how Scripture, prayer, and the example and writings of various saints guided her throughout her life. Jean’s personal and family history is viewed through the lens of faith as she interweaves quotes from the saints and family vignettes. Honestly sharing her struggles and her joys, Jean expresses the hope that her story will draw readers to the Truth and, ultimately, closer to God. As you read this book you will come to see the saints, as Jean does, as “heavenly helpers.”

Would you like to win an autographed first-edition copy of Learning to Love with the Saints?

To be entered to win, simply leave a comment on this post answering the question:

Who’s YOUR go-to saint?

This giveaway will be open through 11:59 PM Wednesday, May 25. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours from the time the email is sent to respond. USA only, please!

Visit the other stops on Jean’s Learning to Love with the Saints Book Tour:

May 13 — Ellen Gable Hrkach at Plot, Line, and Sinker
May 14 — Rosemary Bogdan at A Catholic Mother’s Thoughts (with giveaway!)
May 15 — Carolyn Astfalk at My Scribbler’s Heart Blog (with giveaway!)
May 16 — Lisa Mladinich at Patheos
May 17—Nancy HC Ward at Joy Alive in our Hearts (with giveaway!)
May 18 — Esther Gefroh at A Catholic Mom in Hawaii
May 20–Jeannie Ewing at Love Alone Creates (with giveaway!)
May 21– Patrice Faganant McArthur at Spiritual Woman
May 22 — Melanie Jean Juneau at Association of Catholic Women Bloggers and Joy of Nine
May 23–Virginia Lieto at Virginia Lieto (with giveaway!)
May 24 — Tony Agnesi at Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life

The Fine Print: Buy this book through my Amazon link and support FranciscanMom.com with your purchase!
I received an advance review copy of this memoir, but no other compensation, for the purpose of this review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Roland West, Loner by Theresa Linden

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Roland West is a ninth-grader who lives in a castle deep in the woods. Before this year, he’d never attended a brick-and-mortar school. Before this year, he was only bullied by his twin older brothers, one of whom is pretty much a psychopath. His dad is an archaeologist who travels frequently. His mom died when he was a young child. Roland is shy, wary of making friends, and wants to avoid gossip, so he finds himself bullied at school as well as at home.

Peter Brandt lives on the other side of the forest from Roland. His parents own a bed & breakfast, his younger brother has autism and is always getting into his stuff, and he’s just inherited an antique box (without the key) from his grandfather. When Peter stumbles upon the dungeon in Roland’s basement where Roland was locked up by his brothers, the two stumble into a mystery with a Communion-of-Saints twist that’s complicated by a creepy substitute teacher.

9780996816847.MAINSo begins Roland West, Loner, a young-adult novel by Theresa Linden. I’m not ashamed to admit that I stayed up way too late one night reading this–yes, it’s for teens, but grownups will enjoy it too.

The Catholic connections in the novel are deeply woven into the plot, but never forced. There’s a powerful scene involving the sacrament of Reconcilation as well as a fascinating subplot involving St. Conrad of Parzham. Readers will learn about, and relate to, this German Franciscan saint who was himself the victim of bullies for most of his life.

Roland West, Loner is a suspenseful read that’s appropriate for middle- and high-school students. I bought a copy for the Catholic school library and one for my own middle-schooler.

About author Theresa Linden: An avid reader and writer since grade school, Theresa Linden grew up in a military family. Moving every few years left her with the impression that life is an 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 hopes that the richness, depth, and mystery of the Catholic faith arouse her readers’ imaginations to the invisible realities and the power of faith and grace. A member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild, Theresa lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, three boys, and one dog. Her other published books include Chasing Liberty and Testing Liberty, books one and two in a dystopian trilogy. Follow her on Twitter @LindenTheresa and check out her website, Theresa Linden Fiction!

When you purchase this book through any of the affiliate links in this post, you support Franciscanmom.com at no extra cost to you!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Stay With Me

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My friend, Catholic author Carolyn Astfalk, is celebrating the October 1 release of her novel, Stay with Me, published by Full Quiver Publishing. Billed as an “edgy Theology of the Body romance,” this book is a nice, thick read at over 300 pages–and I’d have been happy for more!

Stay with Me coverCarolyn Astfalk’s novel combines engaging characters with a plausible plot. The reader is drawn in immediately by Rebecca, who is blundering through the grocery store with her young niece and nephew in tow. You can’t help rooting for this innocent young woman, and you’ll find yourself hoping she’ll hit it off with the courteous guy she meets in the store.

Stay with Me is a great blend of romance and faith witness and comes complete with a great set of supporting characters like Abby (Rebecca’s boisterous sister), Father John (who’s connected to both Rebecca and her love interest) and Rebecca’s overbearing father.

I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of this novel and I really enjoyed it. I have to say that Abby was my favorite character, even though my personality is much more like Rebecca’s. Abby is funny, but with plenty of wisdom underneath, and I think her presence added a lot to the story.

It is important to note that you don’t need to be familiar with Dave Matthews Band music to enjoy this book. While DMB gets mentioned a lot, there’s plenty of other music that plays a role. Check out the playlist for the novel!

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that Carolyn is a friend. I actually met her over the summer at the Catholic Writers Guild conference, and it was fun to discuss her story, and her characters, with the author in person. That’s reader heaven right there. Because we can’t all be together in one room to talk about the book, I asked Carolyn if she’d answer a few questions to go with this review.

1. Tell us about the fine line you walk in writing “edgy Theology of the Body romance.”

Unless you’re seeking pure escapism, I don’t think there’s much benefit it whitewashing the challenges and temptations inherent in trying to live the virtue of chastity. A story is both more engaging and provides more substance for reflection if the characters experience real problems and inhabit a recognizable world that is often indifferent or hostile to a lifestyle that acknowledges we are male and female, body as much as soul, and what we do with our bodies matters. That said, there are details and intimacies that are better left not even to our imaginations, but simply left out. There’s a point where edgy can become explicit and teeter towards pornography. That’s not a direction I want to take.

2. Which of your novel’s characters would you like to invite to dinner and why? (You can only choose one!)

If I were single, I’d choose Chris because while not perfect, he’s a genuine good guy, and I have an unfulfilled desire to ride on a Harley Davidson. But, being a married woman, I’d like to invite Rebecca’s sister Abby to dinner. You never know what’s going to come out of Abby’s mouth, so it’d be entertaining, and I think we could bond over our lives with several small children underfoot.

3. What’s been the most exciting part about launching this book? Have there been any surprises along the way?

Seeing such a large project come to completion – or at least fulfillment – is exciting. Most of my days are consumed by managing small, immediate tasks such as changing diapers, wiping up messes, and shepherding older kids. Launching a book exercised some completely different parts of my brain and tried my patience in different ways. The biggest surprise has been discovering how gracious and supportive other writers are. It’s been said a million times, but writing a book and finding its niche are not things you can do alone – at least not well. I’ve been blessed by so many people who offered advice, encouragement, and so much more.

 

Want to visit the other stops on Carolyn’s book tour?

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 1: CATHOLICMOM.COM
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2: RECONCILED TO YOU (ALLISON GINGRAS)
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 3: PEACE TO ALL WHO ENTER HERE (DON MULCARE)
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 4: KAREN KELLY BOYCE
MONDAY, OCTOBER 5: THERESE HECKENKAMP
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 6:CATHOLIC FIRE (JEAN HEIMANN)
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 7: SARAH DAMM AND ROBIN PATCHEN
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8: SNORING SCHOLAR (SARAH REINHARD), ERIN McCOLE CUPP, PLOT LINE AND SINKER (ELLEN GABLE)
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9: DOMESTIC VOCATION (CHRISTINE JOHNSON)

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Carolyn author pictureCarolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart.

Note: Amazon links to Stay With Me are affiliate links. This means that your purchase of this book, at no extra cost to you, puts a little something into my virtual Amazon tip jar. Thanks!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Sweetest Rain Review and Giveaway!

Barb's Book shelf blog title

On my bookshelf today: a sweet Catholic romance novel that takes place in Depression-era Arkansas. As historical fiction goes, this is one of my favorite time periods to read about; I think this is because characters are too busy surviving to do much navel-gazing.

ofu5Nt5bAI1EOJeG-oPAco0tPN9Tk6LCDMtIAp0NsxAMyra Johnson’s novel, The Sweetest Rain, finds a tenant farmer’s responsible oldest granddaughter in search of a way to supplement the near-nonexistent farm income during a drought season. Boldly approaching the plantation owner, she lands a housekeeping job in his grand home and upsets the status quo by getting involved in “upstairs, downstairs” politics–and falling in love with the owner’s son.

I enjoyed the portrayal of the two very different worlds that Bryony, the heroine, walked between, and the strength and grit she showed in helping her family survive. In some ways, she reminded me of George Bailey, doing what had to be done for her family, even at the expense of her own dreams. How this plays out as the story goes on–well, I don’t want to give any spoilers here. But I will say this: if you like Downton Abbey, you’ll like this novel!

Since this book is from the genre known as “sweet romance,” it’s appropriate for teens as well as adults.

FM_Color_LogoTo help me introduce this book to more readers, publisher Franciscan Media is offering a copy of The Sweetest Rain to one lucky reader! To put your name in the hat for a FREE copy of this novel, simply answer this question in the comment box:

What’s your favorite time period to read about in historical fiction?

This contest ends Tuesday, October 13 at noon Eastern. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen.

Want more chances to win? Visit the other blogs on the book tour and enter your name in their giveaways!

Myra Johnson 2014About author Myra Johnson:

Myra Johnson’s roots go deep into Texas soil, but she now enjoys living amidst the scenic beauty of North Carolina. Myra’s debut novel, One Imperfect Christmas, was a September 2009 release from Abingdon Press. She has also written six novels for the Heartsong Presents line. Most recently she has completed a three-book historical romance series, “Till We Meet Again,” for Abingdon Press. Myra and her husband, Jack, have two married daughters and seven grandchildren.