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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An Open Book: October 2016 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

image-and-likenessImage and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body, edited by Erin McCole Cupp and Ellen Gable. What, exactly, are “literary reflections on the Theology of the Body?” They’re stories and poems about how we live, and how we live our lives in relationship with each other, with our bodies, with our souls, and with God. It’s not some complicated, esoteric subject. Because it’s an anthology, there’s something for everyone, from detective stories to poetry to tales of family life that range from the harrowing to the uplifting. These stories and poems are about life. Like life, they are not always neat and tidy and packaged in a pretty box with a crisply-tied ribbon. I’ve come to expect just this from other work from Full Quiver Publishing: this publisher does not shy away from difficult subjects and situations in its commitment to promoting the culture of life and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

og-front-cover-finalOrnamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk. This is no Harlequin/gothic/bodice-ripper/shades-of-grey novel. That’s not Carolyn Astfalk’s style. Ornamental Graces, like her previous novel, Stay with Me, is a Catholic romance with Theology of the Body underpinning the story. This novel tells the story of the on-again, off-again romance between Emily, a young teacher obsessed with all things French, and Dan, whose wounds from a past relationship make him wary of starting over. There are some terrific peripheral characters as well; you’ll want to adopt Grandma. Will Dan be able to finally put his past behind him and open up to new love? Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

i-believe-you-by-jeanne-grunertI Believe You by Jeanne Grunert. David Majek and his sons are still finding their way 6 months after his wife was killed by a hit-and-run driver who was never apprehended for the crime. Then strange things start happening: a man in a fedora is watching the house, David’s bank account is drained of funds overnight, and as David struggles to maintain his household, run the family business and untangle these mysteries, details come to light that threaten to tear the family apart. I don’t usually read suspense novels, preferring fare that is more character-driven. But I found that David Majek’s character was quite well-developed in this novel, and it didn’t take long for me to get drawn into the story. Read my full review. (Review copy provided by author)

journey-to-the-crossJourney to the Cross by Shane Cloonan. The story in this children’s picture book is told from the point of view of the donkey who carried the Blessed Mother to Bethlehem, where she would give birth to Jesus; in this tale, the same donkey carried Jesus on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Passion Sunday, 33 years later. This book by a teenage author is worth adding to your Christmas-book basket. (ARC received from publisher)

unexpected-roleAn Unexpected Role by Leslea Wahl. This YA book is about a high-school theatre geek who doesn’t fit in with the cool kids and who’s been the target of some in-person pranks and cyberbullying. Seeking a fresh start, she spends the summer with her aunt, only to keep running into one of the cool kids from home. Josie and Ryan get wrapped up in trying to solve a rash of local robberies. Great characters, painfully real situations, mystery and even a love interest–with some wisdom in the side. (I liked Wahl’s other work so much I preordered this one as soon as I heard about it!)

under-rose-tainted-skiesUnder Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall. A housebound teenager battles agoraphobia and OCD. Left home alone for weeks while her mother goes on a business trip and recovers from a car accident, Norah develops a friendship with the boy next door, who shows her that not everyone sees her as a freak. The author does well at getting into the head of a teen battling mental illness, but the concept of leaving so unstable a teen home alone for any length of time didn’t ring true. (Netgalley review)

unnamed-9Nameless by Erin McCole Cupp. This second in a 3-part futuristic sendup of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre will keep you up nights! In Nameless, Jane_E is now employed as a live-in tutor for her employer’s young ward, and works there several weeks before meeting her employer. Once she does, though, sparks begin to fly! As Jane_E is convinced of her own ugliness, awkwardness and unworthiness, she questions Thorne’s motives and doubts his sincerity. Inevitably, romance ensues–but then the mysterious source of strange household events is revealed, and this threatens Jane_E’s integrity as well as her relationship with Thorne. I found this installment of the story even more suspenseful than the first part. Highly recommended! Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

Nonfiction

loehr-2aThe Church is Our Mother by Gina Loehr. The author breaks down the functions of the Church into 7 activities which every mother is familiar with doing: creating, caring, teaching, accepting, sacrificing, healing and celebrating. Loehr compares the work of a mother with the work of the Church in concrete ways. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Image and Likeness

I used to avoid the short-story genre because short fiction always leaves me hungry for more.

The short stories and poetry in Image and Likeness, an anthology of literary reflections on the Theology of the Body, are no exception to that trend. In fact, I emailed editors Erin McCole Cupp and Ellen Gable when I was only about 30% done with the book to let them know this. I want more from these authors.

Fortunately, the contributing writers have plenty of novels, short fiction and even poetry to offer. I’m very familiar with the novels by some of these authors, but others are new to me, and I’ll happily dive into their other work.

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So what, exactly, are “literary reflections on the Theology of the Body?”

They’re stories and poems about how we live, and how we live our lives in relationship with each other, with our bodies, with our souls, and with God. It’s not some complicated, esoteric subject. Editor Erin McCole Cupp observes,

IAL is a fresh approach to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, placing the naked truth of this saint’s teachings on the meaning of human substance in the illustrating light of literature, through both short stories and poetry.

Because it’s an anthology, there’s something for everyone, from detective stories to poetry to tales of family life that range from the harrowing to the uplifting. These stories and poems are about life. Like life, they are not always neat and tidy and packaged in a pretty box with a crisply-tied ribbon. I’ve come to expect just this from other work from Full Quiver Publishing: this publisher does not shy away from difficult subjects and situations in its commitment to promoting the culture of life and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body will not only bring you to tears occasionally, it will make you think. There’s no preaching, no hammering the reader over the head with the Truth, but the Truth is all over these stories.

The Kindle edition of the 202-page anthology is available today for $4.99. It’s worth every penny.

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

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 by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

50+ Better Things to Read #ShowUsYourList

In the name of accentuating the positive and coming up with solutions instead of just complaining about problems, Catholic author ErinMcCole-Cupp has proposed that people who love to read good books share their lists of works of quality fiction that celebrate truth, beauty and goodness rather than tearing down the dignity of the human person.

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Here are 50+ WAY Better Novels:

  1. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. My all-time favorite book EVER.
  2. Rachel’s Contrition by Michelle Buckman
  3. Death Panels by Michelle Buckman
  4. Angela’s Song by AnnMarie Creedon
  5. Cracks in the Sidewalk by Bette Lee Crosby
  6. The Twelfth Child by Bette Lee Crosby
  7. Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby
  8. Jubilee’s Journey by Bette Lee Crosby
  9. Previously Loved Treasures by Bette Lee Crosby
  10. What Matters Most by Bette Lee Crosby
  11. Passing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby
  12. Wishing for Wonderful by Bette Lee Crosby
  13. Don’t You Forget About Me by Erin McCole-Cupp
  14. Jane_E., Friendless Orphan by Erin McCole-Cupp
  15. Nest by Esther Ehrlich. YA.
  16. Greater Treasures:  A DragonEye Novella by Karina Fabian
  17. Georgios by A.K. Frailey
  18. The Scent of Lilacs by Ann Gabhart
  19. In Name Only by Ellen Gable
  20. A Subtle Grace by Ellen Gable
  21. Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable
  22. Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable
  23. The Truth About the Sky by Katharine Grubb
  24. Falling for Your Madness by Katharine Grubb
  25. Genius Under Construction by Marilee Haynes. YA.
  26. Past Suspicion by Therese Heckencamp
  27. Casting the First Stone by Lisa Hess
  28. A Hunger in the Heart by Kaye Park Hinckley
  29. The Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt
  30. The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab. YA.
  31. Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly
  32. Cracks in the Ice by Deanna Klingel
  33. A World Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Purcell Lauer
  34. The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine. YA.
  35. Hijacked by Leslie Lynch
  36. Unholy Bonds by Leslie Lynch
  37. Opal’s Jubilee by Leslie Lynch
  38. A Christmas Hope by Leslie Lynch
  39. When Mike Kissed Emma by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  40. Reality Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  41. Lights, Camera, Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  42. Honestly, Ali! by Christine Marciniak. YA.
  43. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  44. Fatal Rhythm by R. B. O’Gorman
  45. Finding Grace by Laura Pearl
  46. Erin’s Ring by Laura Pearl. YA.
  47. Hush Hush by Michelle Quigley
  48. O Little Town by Don Reid
  49. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  50. Best Wishes, Sister B by Fran Smith
  51. Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney. YA.
  52. Digital Me by J.M. Varner. YA.
  53. Mister Teacher Person by J.M. Varner. YA.
  54. Breathing On Her Own by Rebecca Williams Waters

I’ve read all of these books and consider them all Really GOOD Fiction. Quality fiction. Well-written fiction. Fiction you wouldn’t be ashamed to leave around your living room, read in a public place, or have your teenager pick up and read.

I’ve met the authors of some of these books. I’ve been a beta reader for some of them. I know the care they take in crafting novels that are well-written, with interesting characters and fascinating plots–novels that show respect for both the character AND the reader. Some of these are YA, but I’ve got nothing against reading good YA stuff. This list does reflect my taste (almost no no time travel, sci-fi or dystopian stuff, although I’m sure there’s plenty of those novels out there that are of good quality.)

Not all of these authors are Catholic authors. Not all of them are indie authors. But many of them are. I have read ALL of these books and am happy to recommend them far and wide. Also, this list is limited to novels. Because it’s my list, so I’m setting the parameters.

Learn more about Erin’s Show Us Your List movement! Share your list of good-quality entertainment, tag the Big Cheeses of Catholic Media, and support your positive, not-scandalous, writers.

© 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
Image credit:  Erin McCole-Cupp. Used with permission.

Read This Instead: 50 WAY Better Novels

I’m building on Erin McCole-Cupp’s challenge to Catholic media types to spend at least half the time they spend telling people why they shouldn’t go see That Movie (or read That Book) recommending positive, worthwhile entertainment in its place.

(Not that I fancy myself a Catholic media type. But I know how to tag people on Twitter, and tag I shall.)

It’s like that bit at the end of Alice’s Restaurant.

Or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like that, there’s only one thing you can do:

Walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in, say, “Shrink, . . . you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”, and walk out.

You know, if one person, just one person, does it, they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him.

And if two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both ******* and they won’t take either of them.

And if three people do it! Can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an Organization!

And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day . . .
Walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out? Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT, and that’s what it is: THE ALICE’S RESTAURANT ANTI-MASSACREE MOVEMENT! . . . and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

With feelin’.

In the hopes that this becomes a Movement, I’ve gone through my Goodreads list and found you a whole bunch of Really GOOD Fiction. Quality fiction. Well-written fiction. Fiction you wouldn’t be ashamed to leave around your living room, read in a public place, or have your teenager pick up and read.

I’ve met the authors of some of these books. I’ve been a beta reader for some of them. I know the care they take in crafting novels that are well-written, with interesting characters and fascinating plots–and novels that show respect for both the character AND the reader. Some of these are YA, but I’ve got nothing against reading good YA stuff. This list does reflect my taste (almost no no time travel, sci-fi or dystopian stuff, although I’m sure there’s plenty of those novels out there that are of good quality.)

Not all of these authors are Catholic authors. Not all of them are indie authors. But many of them are. I have read ALL of these books and am happy to recommend them far and wide. Also, this list is limited to novels. Because it’s my list, so I’m setting the parameters.

tree grows in brooklyn
My very favorite book EVER. I’m on my third copy.

In no particular order of preference, except for #1. I sorted my Goodreads list by author. If you want to see what I liked about these books, you can read my reviews at Goodreads.

Here are 50 WAY Better Novels:

  1. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. My all-time favorite book EVER.
  2. Cracks in the Sidewalk by Bette Lee Crosby
  3. The Twelfth Child by Bette Lee Crosby
  4. Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby
  5. Jubilee’s Journey by Bette Lee Crosby
  6. Previously Loved Treasures by Bette Lee Crosby
  7. What Matters Most by Bette Lee Crosby
  8. Passing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby
  9. Wishing for Wonderful by Bette Lee Crosby
  10. Don’t You Forget About Me by Erin McCole-Cupp
  11. Jane_E., Friendless Orphan by Erin McCole-Cupp
  12. Nest by Esther Ehrlich. YA.
  13. Greater Treasures:  A DragonEye Novella by Karina Fabian
  14. Georgios by A.K. Frailey
  15. The Scent of Lilacs by Ann Gabhart
  16. In Name Only by Ellen Gable
  17. A Subtle Grace by Ellen Gable
  18. Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable
  19. Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable
  20. The Truth About the Sky by Katharine Grubb
  21. Falling for Your Madness by Katharine Grubb
  22. Genius Under Construction by Marilee Haynes. YA.
  23. Past Suspicion by Therese Heckencamp
  24. Casting the First Stone by Lisa Hess
  25. A Hunger in the Heart by Kaye Park Hinckley
  26. The Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt
  27. The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab. YA.
  28. Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly
  29. Cracks in the Ice by Deanna Klingel
  30. The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine. YA.
  31. Hijacked by Leslie Lynch
  32. Unholy Bonds by Leslie Lynch
  33. Opal’s Jubilee by Leslie Lynch
  34. A Christmas Hope by Leslie Lynch
  35. When Mike Kissed Emma by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  36. Reality Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  37. Lights, Camera, Ali by Christine Marciniak, YA.
  38. Honestly, Ali! by Christine Marciniak. YA.
  39. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  40. Fatal Rhythm by R. B. O’Gorman
  41. Finding Grace by Laura Pearl
  42. Erin’s Ring by Laura Pearl. YA.
  43. Hush Hush by Michelle Quigley
  44. O Little Town by Don Reid
  45. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  46. Best Wishes, Sister B by Fran Smith
  47. Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney. YA.
  48. Digital Me by J.M. Varner. YA.
  49. Mister Teacher Person by J.M. Varner. YA.
  50. Breathing On Her Own by Rebecca Williams Waters

Book Review: From the Hub to the Heart

It’s my privilege to participate in Andy LaVallee’s book-launch blog tour, hosted by Ellen Gable Hrkach of Full Quiver Publishing.

from the hub to the heart coverAndy LaVallee’s spiritual memoir, From the Hub to the Heart, written with Leticia Velasquez, depicts his youth in a Boston neighborhood that was almost a small town in itself, his tough-guy young adult years in which he built a lucrative business, and his dramatic return to the Faith.

Yes, I said dramatic. It’s not St. Paul being thrown off a horse, but it’s close. Andy LaVallee has a big personality, and God needed to go big to get his attention. (And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject, because I’m no fan of spoilers.)

My favorite part of this memoir was the last page in each chapter. This is where LaVallee takes a look at what he learned through the lens of one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. He boils down what he has learned the hard way into advice for the reader. While the entire book reads as if LaVallee is sitting next to you, telling you his story and what he hopes you’ll learn from it, these pages relate his experiences directly to the Faith.

LaVallee’s faith became so important to him and to the way in which he lives his life and runs his business that the story of his faith journey just spills out of him. From a rough Boston neighborhood to the nation’s country clubs to Medjugorjie, the author learned to put God in charge of the direction of his life, as he explains in chapter 6, where he compares the GPS in his car to his own guiding principles. Summing up that chapter, LaVallee writes,

…I was lost, and now I have a goal and specific tasks to support me on my journey. These habits of virtue are the new me and how I can show love and forgiveness in each area of my life….it’s a constant battle to give up old bad habits and replace them with good ones, and thus must be kept up daily. (p. 133)

Because LaVallee’s book is instructional as well as inspirational, this would be an excellent read for anyone in the RCIA program or for someone interested in deepening their spiritual life.

From the Hub to the Heart is available on Kindle for $3.99; the paperback is available from LaVallee’s site, Live the Fast, for $14.99.

An Interview with Author Ellen Gable

I imagine that the hardest type of fiction to write must be historical fiction. The author is challenged to know so many details about the time and place–details that the author cannot have experienced firsthand.

ellen gable a subtle graceEllen Gable did her homework while writing her most recent novel, A Subtle Grace, and it shows. The book is set in late-nineteenth-century Philadelphia, and her attention to detail in showing the reader the time and place meant that I was able to pinpoint the main characters’ neighborhood as the location of modern-day LaSalle University.

(I’ve lived a few miles from Philly for over 22 years; my son attends LaSalle and my daughter will be going there next year. When I read books about the Philly area, I’ve usually got a map nearby so I can see the locations being described. I’m a geek like that.)

A Subtle Grace is the second book in the O’Donovan Family series, following In Name Only. You don’t have to read In Name Only to pick up the story, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from doing that!

Ellen Gable is at her best when she’s writing suspense, and this novel features plenty of it. She graciously agreed to an interview, and I used the opportunity to ask her a few things I was wondering about after I read the book.

Did you have a sequel in mind when you wrote In Name Only, or did the idea for this one come later?

I didn’t have a sequel in mind until I was near the end of writing In Name Only.  At that point, I felt there was more of the O’Donovans’ story to tell.  I decided that ‘grown up’ Kathleen would be the main female protagonist in the next book, and that I would include Will as a secondary protagonist.  I knew at the end of In Name Only that Will would have a vocation to the priesthood, but I had no idea (until I started researching) that it would be so difficult for him.

As much as I wanted to write the sequel, though, I just couldn’t get things going until about a year and a half ago. For three years, I had tried to write a very basic draft of A Subtle Grace, but eventually deleted the entire manuscript and started fresh.  At that point, I couldn’t type fast enough to get the story written.

2. Will there be another novel in the series?

Yes, there will be another novel in this “O’Donovan Family” series. I’ve already outlined basically what is going to happen.  Without giving too much away, it will likely feature Patrick (who was the babe in arms at the end of In Name Only and who is 14 when A Subtle Grace begins) as the main male protagonist.

That being said, I need to feel inspired to write a 420 page, 130,000 word novel!  So I don’t know when it will be written, but I’m hoping within a few years.  Until then, I’ll be working on a Christmas novella, Julia’s Gifts, that I hope will be published in mid-2015.

3. Do you prefer writing contemporary fiction or historical fiction?

I enjoy writing both. Contemporary fiction is easier to write because I don’t have to worry so much about language.  There is no need to research the sorts of foods the characters are eating or what the characters are wearing or what is in their local newspaper.

Historical fiction is more interesting to me because of the research. However, research can be tedious and time-consuming.  If I did have a preference, I would say historical because I like to transport readers (and myself) back to a simpler time.

4. What made you set your historical novels in Philly? This is the third one, if you include Emily’s Hope that is ½ historical novel, ½ contemporary.

I grew up in the Philadelphia area and I’ve been fascinated with Philly history since my father took me to see the Liberty Bell when I was about five years old.  Since then, I’ve gained an interesting library of books on Philadelphia history. Emily’s Hope was based on true events…my great-grandmother, grandparents and parents were all born in Philadelphia so it was natural to keep the setting there.  When I decided to write my first historical novel (In Name Only), I figured I might as well put my knowledge and research skills to use and start with something I know.

As an avid reader, I love having the chance to have a conversation with an author about her books! Thanks, Ellen, for the privilege of this interview.

I hope that by this time you’re convinced that you want to read this book! Here’s how to get the print and Kindle editions, plus a link to Ellen Gable’s Amazon author page where you’ll find information about all her books!

I read In Name Only way back when; here’s my review.

The Fine Print: I received an advance-reader electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone and I was not given any compensation for my review.

The Suspense Will Kill You

stealing jenny photo endorsementClear your calendar before reading this book.

Seriously. Once you start, you won’t want to have to put it down.

Last week at the Catholic Writers Guild meeting, I had the pleasure of meeting the author (and publisher) of Stealing Jenny. Ellen Gable is as generous with hugs as she is with advice to aspiring authors, and this novel (her best one yet, in this reader’s opinion) shows that she is also masterful at creating suspense.

I’ve enjoyed Ellen’s other novels:  In Name Only and Emily’s Hope–and I look forward to her upcoming book A Subtle Grace, scheduled for publication late this year.

But it’ll be tough to top this one. I’ll go a little sensational with my synopsis, because this story really does sound like it could be the Big Story on Action News, Ripped From the Headlines and all of that.

A young mother with a history of complicated pregnancies anticipates the birth of her child–but so does her neighbor, who harbors a deep grudge and plots to separate her, and her baby, from her happy family.

I don’t generally go for mystery, crime or suspense novels, but this one had me hooked.

(photo credit:  Little Brother. Do you know how many pictures he had to take before he got one without a blurry title? The kid is a perpetual motion machine–a bad quality in a photographer.)