Ellen Gable’s ‘A Subtle Grace’ Book Review

ASG pic

ASG pic

Ellen Gable’s A Subtle Grace, the sequel to the Amazon best-seller, In Name Only, is her best work to date.  I am a big fan of In Name Only, the first O’Donovan Family novel, and have been looking forward to the release of the second book.  If you haven’t read the first book, you will still enjoy A Subtle Grace, because it can stand alone. Both books are available on Amazon in print and Kindle format.

Set in Philadelphia, in 1896, the novel follows the story of 19-year-old Kathleen O’Donovan, daughter of Caroline and David O’Donovan, who are featured in In Name Only.  The impulsive and immature Kathleen witnesses the pairing off of many of her friends and is longing for a husband of her own.  However, she desires marriage over a true relationship and this is what eventually gets her into trouble.

She is training to be a nurse and, in the process, becomes acquainted with the town doctor.  Kathleen also develops an infatuation with the Local Police Chief’s son.  It is in these relationships that Gable juxtaposes love and lust.  It is a potent illustration of what constitutes authentic love and what it takes to achieve that.

One of Gable’s strengths is the lengths she goes to paint a historically accurate picture of the time period.  Her writing gives the reader a vivid mental picture of what life was like in the late 1800′s, the food, fashions and social practices all add to the reader’s enjoyment.

Another strength is Gable’s ability to write a good villain.  And by good, I mean bad. Evil!  It is a self-indulgent pleasure to hope the ‘bad guy’ will get his comeuppance. Gable helps you to relish that feeling.

There are several sub-plots which keep the story moving; Kathleen’s brother Will’s calling to the priesthood, a secret buried deep within her father’s past, and another brother’s shame.

Fans of historical fiction will appreciate this novel.  Those who enjoy the genre of romance–particularly Christian romance–will savor it. Not merely the story of a young girl’s journey to maturity, A Subtle Grace is a masterfully written illustration of the difference between lust and love, between rashness and fortitude, between mere existence and truly living.

The Manger is Empty

It’s the Eve of the birth of Our Lord.  The manger is waiting, somewhere in time, to welcome Him, the Word Made Flesh.  He comes to the world in the form of humanity, to take on humanity; to take on all that is human, yet still remain divine. He gives us, as a gift, all of Him.

But what does He ask in return?

He wants all of us.  He wants us to fill the manger before He comes, so He can dwell with us and our humanity.

Take some time today and give Him all of you; all of your fears. loves, desires, sufferings and concerns.  Place them in the manger.  And when He comes, at midnight, at that timeless, glorious moment, He will take onto Himself all that you are, all that you have.

He will carry your burdens as He grows, and they will be with Him on that excruciating walk to Calvary.  It is why He comes to us, to bear our burdens, because we cannot possibly bear them alone.

Close your eyes and go to the cave in Bethlehem, where a young virgin is waiting and making preparations.  Do you see the manger?  It’s empty, save for a bit of straw.  Go and kneel before it and unburden yourself.  Fill the cradle with everything that is in your heart:

“I’m afraid my husband will leave me.”

“My children are keeping company with the wrong people.”Empty_Manger

“My mother is dying and I don’t know how to live without her.”

“I’m next in the round of layoffs.”

“I have deep wounds from verbal/physical/sexual abuse.”

“Why, why am I unable to have a baby?”

“My wife doesn’t love me anymore.”

“I’m worried we can’t pay the bills.”

“I give you my motherhood/fatherhood, my vocation as a wife/husband, my work, my talents, my faults, my sadness, my joy, my worries and my temporal needs…I GIVE YOU ALL OF ME.”

Why do you think He came to Bethlehem–the City of Bread–and was gently laid in a manger; the place where animals feed?  In the humble circumstances surrounding His birth, He shows us that He loves us SO much, that He literally wants to share all of Himself with us, in the form of food. (See John 6: 35-58)

He asks no less of us.  He gives us all of Himself and He wants all from us.

So, this night, take a break from the busyness of the holidays and quiet yourself.  Then visit the manger and fill it to overflowing.

 

 

 

The Spirit and the Heart

adulteress  Before I submitted the manuscript for Angela’s Song, I had my pastor pray over it.  I stopped him in the vestibule one day after daily Mass.

“Do you have time to bless something?”

“Of course, what is it?”

I held out my hand, which contained a pink flash drive.  “My book.”

“What, specifically, do you want me to pray for?”  He always asked the right questions, this priest.

“Healing,” I answered.  “I want the readers of this book to experience God’s healing presence in their lives.”

He nodded and raised his hand over the flash drive and what came out of his mouth was a beautiful, profound blessing and intercessory prayer to the Lord, for wisdom, for healing, for conversions, for hope, peace and love.  In my pastor’s blessing were the deepest desires of my heart.

In my adult life I’ve acquired what is called a ‘zeal for souls.’  I constantly pray for conversions.  This is why I identify so well with St. Therese of Lisieux.  Everyone, to me, is Pranzetti, including myself.  On the advice of St. Paul, I ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling.’

Conversion rarely comes through preaching.  Conversion will come, firstly, with prayer.  Because it is the Holy Spirit, really, that does the conversion.  Look to the apostles on Pentecost.  Their nine-day prayer to the Holy Spirit resulted in the conversion of thousands and the birth of a Church that still stands today, with billions of faithful over the globe.

But the Lord heard my meager prayer for souls as I wrote Angela’s Song, and today I saw proof of His profound love and faithfulness.  I received an e-mail from a woman who had her heart broken time and time again, which made her harden her heart and turn away from God.  But, she wrote, after reading Angela’s Song, that she has made the decision to forgive and to let God back into her life.  I am in awe of the goodness of God in allowing me to know this and see His work through my writing!

How many times have we shut God out because of the hurt caused by people?  I know I have.  What about when we hurt others?  We often shut God out of our lives because we feel unworthy of His love.  There are so many reasons why we harden our hearts.  But the only thing that can soften them again is forgiveness.

We need to forgive others and ourselves.  Forgiving others isn’t too hard…if they’re contrite.  But what about of they don’t apologize?  What if they continue doing all the nasty things that hurt you?  Forgive anyway.  I know…I know…it’s hard.  I’ve been there, done that, as well.  The secret to forgiveness is to realize that the forgiveness sets you free, not the person you forgive.  That is between them and God.  How do you know you’ve truly forgiven?  When you can pray for the person.  When you have no malice toward them.  Forgiveness doesn’t magically take the hurt away.  It does, however, pull down the bars of the prison you’ve built for yourself.

Self forgiveness is probably more difficult than forgiving others.  When we are unable to forgive ourselves, it turns into self-loathing, which can lead to all sorts of serious issues, such as self-injury, depression or suicidal thoughts.  (Of course, these things are not always caused by self unforgiveness. It could be a possible cause; there are clinical origins as well, which need to be addressed by a professional.)

Again, forgiveness is the answer.   In Wisdom 11:24, the bible tells us:

For you love all things that are

and loathe nothing that you have made

for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

Your sins are not greater than the Lord’s love.  They are not more powerful than the Blood which redeemed them.

Psalm 51 is a soothing psalm, which asks for healing and restoration.  Pray this daily, if you need help in this area.

If you have a deep wound, caused either by your own or someone else’s actions, ask for help from God.  He is waiting to help you.  Angela’s prayers in my novel demonstrate a type of visual prayer that is very healing.  A friend of mine shared the following form of prayer with me and it has helped me on so many occasions.

Before you go to sleep, imagine that you are with Jesus.  He is standing before you, with the healing rays of love coming from His heart into yours.  Ask your guardian angel to keep you there, with Jesus, while Our DM imageyou sleep, so He can heal your wounds.  Do this as many times as you need to, until you are able to forgive yourself and others.

When angry or negative thoughts surface about yourself or the person who hurt you, repeat, “Jesus, I trust in You,” until the thoughts dissipate.

Unforgiveness is a burden. God wants to release us from it.  Turn to Him for help.  Let go of the unforgiveness and walk in freedom.

 

Don’t Think of a Purple Elephant! Why Catholics need TOB Romance Novels

emccolecupp_1366832845_84Today, author Erin Cupp guest posts here at Roman(tic) Catholic, with her thoughts on purple elephants, bodice rippers and unresolved sexual tension.  Read on…

When I became a Christian (not even Catholic yet, mind you—I had my heart set on finding some nice, respectable, non-denominational church near my college at the time), I already knew I had to let go of a few things in order to follow Jesus.  I have often spoken of the night when I stood over my dorm hall’s trash can, my tarot cards in hand, saying, “I guess this is it.”  I remember watching those cards–my connection to a future that I could pretend was mine, could pretend was certain–as they cascaded into a place where I could no longer reach them.

I have often spoken of that experience, of letting go of that one source of immediate gratification.  I’ve never really spoken about throwing out another: my trashy romance novels.

The more of my Bible I read, the less I could reconcile my bodice-rippers with Matthew 5: 27-29.  Also, the more I read my Bible, the less I could deny the fullness of the truth to be found in the Catholic Church, but that’s another story for another blog post.  Anyway, I knew what Jesus said about keeping our minds as pure as our actions, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to know why.  Why would an ostensibly good and loving God want us to keep our eyes, even our thoughts, for our spouses alone?  If our thoughts are just between ourselves and God, then why should He care what we think?

He cares because He wants our actions to be rooted in thought.  Pure water only comes from pure well, right?

Anyway, there are enough people smarter than I who have written plenty about why God’s plan for us as whole, sexual persons is a good one.  What there aren’t, however, are enough people who’ve given us imaginative examples of how to treat each other as whole persons outside the bedroom.  Oh, don’t get me wrong:  check any of those links and a dozen more, and you’ll get lots of theological discourse (all good, but some of it dry and complicated) about the goodness of the sexual relationship lived in balance with creation and developed both inside and out of the bedroom.  But how do we bring all that to life on a daily basis?  Besides that, there’s a ton of advice out there on “what not to do,” and more specifically for the single folks, “How far is too far?”   It’s good to know our boundaries, but our human brains need to be told more than “Don’t think of a purple elephant.”  If we only hear about what we need to avoid, we have nothing positive to fill our minds and have a more difficult time leaving the bad behind us.

Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, but we need more examples of what to do.  We need less negative and more positive.  After all, isn’t the positivity of the gift what Theology of the Body is all about?

My friends, what our reading brains need is a little bit more UST.

UST?  What’s that?  All my fanfic peeps will know that UST stands for Unresolved Sexual Tension.  That’s the stuff that made The X Files so good for so long.  It’s what happens daily, hourly, by the minute outside of “celebrating the sacrament.”  It’s the charged conversations, gestures, glances and more that build the foundation of the chemistry that makes a devout Catholic marriage the steamiest marriage around.

But where are we going to learn these things, how to brew that UST?  We might get a bit of it on TV (see X Files reference above), but it never lasts, does it?  Not long enough for us to gain many helpful examples of how to keep that tension going in our relationships.

But what about those bodice-rippers I threw out?  What about those erotica fanfics I didn’t let myself read back in the day?  There are more than fifty shades of books out there that fill our imaginations with thoughts about people other than our spouses.  You can go ahead and tell yourself that that’s not pornography, but you’re gonna have a hard time proving that to me.  What can we have instead of literary porn if we want to read romance?

Why do we want to read romance anyway?  Because we learn by reading.  We learn so much about our humanity specifically when reading fiction.  Where non-fiction can give us the how-to, fiction can breathe life and relationship into the “to do list” in a way that a self-help book just can’t.  So if we need to learn more UST in order to keep SPICE in our marriages, the last thing we need is more “what not to read.”  Why don’t we have more examples of UST available to us?

Oh, sure, Jane Austen was the queen of UST.  Charlotte Bronte gave us Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and they brought us boatload of UST.  Elisabeth Gaskell in North and South, Wives and Daughters… shall I go on?  Those books are still with us, but they’ve been around for quite a while and, while timeless, don’t give us any examples of contemporary UST.  Mr. Thornton never sent Margaret Hale an emotionally-charged text message.

So where are the present-day stories of UST?  Well, check with the Catholic Writers Guild.  We’re working on it.  As for me, when I wrote Don’t You Forget About Me, I set about to incorporate as much UST into the novel as I could.  I wanted to give readers an example of how a relationship can blossom dyfam-animoto-finalslide-poppiesand grow between two people who have to work out both chemistry and conflict before they take their relationship in any other directions.  AnnMarie Creedon gave us a whole book-worth of UST in Angela’s Song.  Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable is a by-turns angsty, by-turns sweet series of vignettes showing how UST was left to blossom or turn sour, depending on the wills of the persons wielding it.

Fair warning:  there is a danger in overtantalizing yourself with UST-laden fiction.  You can only benefit from UST fiction if you use it to inspire communication, not to get stuck in watching how imaginary people are panting after each other like deer with no running stream in sight.  As in all things, moderation!  But if you want to learn by reading some ways to put the UST into your life, Catholic romance can be an excellent investment.  Check out the novels in the previous paragraph.  If you’re looking for more titles that will give you a Catholic take on UST, take a look at the winners of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.

Are you still not finding what you want to read?  Then join the CWG and write some yourself!  There’s certainly a need for it.

Angela’s Song FREE on Kindle

Angela's Song front cover

My Catholic Romance novel, Angela’s Song, is FREE today and tomorrow (11/13/13 and 11/14/13) on Kindle!  This novel has averaged 4.3 stars on Amazon.  Here is a sample review:

One of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read. I wish I had written this, except that then it would have been a Mormon novel instead of a Catholic one. It fully explains what God’s intentions for human love are, and how to meet those intentions. It makes it clear that God’s laws are for our happiness, not to make us miserable. I literally read it in one sitting, and couldn’t put it down for anything until I finished it.

Anne Wingate author of Scene of the Crime and other books of fiction and nonfiction

Click here to download your free copy.

Don’t You Forget About Me Book Review

DYFAM pic

 

Being constantly bullied by classmates is bad enough…but finding a corpse as well?  Mary Catherine Whelihan has shaken the dust of Walkerville from her feet and reinvented herself as Mary Cate Wheeler, best-selling children’s author.

However, when an invitation to speak at Our Lady of the Seven Dolors School coincides with beloved Sister Thomas Marie’s funeral, she is tempted to return to her hometown.  A cryptic e-mail from an old flame, and the promise of tomato pie, seal the deal.

Back in Walkerville, it seems that everything has changed, except for Mary Catherine.  She is still the same wounded soul, who insulates herself against being hurt, by distancing herself from everyone and everything.  Mary Catherine is so blinded by the past, that she is unable to see her classmates as anything but caricatures and completely misses the big picture.  Her childhood best friend (and crush) Gene Marcasian, MD, sees everything, however.

Once Gene clues Mary Catherine in about the ‘Curse of ’87,’ the danger begins.  Someone doesn’t want the duo to discover what lurks within Walkerville, and Gene and Cate find themselves running for their lives.

Erin McCole Cupp has created a quirky, fun mystery-romance that will tickle your funny bone while making your hair stand on end.  I highly recommend this entertaining read.

Click here to visit the Don’t You Forget About Me Amazon page

Pat Robertson, what were you thinking???

SONY DSC

Recently, a woman called televangelist Pat Robertson looking for advice on how to forgive her husband who had cheated on her.  One of his comments to her was, “He cheated on you, well, he’s a man.” REALLY???  That’s all Mr. Robertson could come up with?  And then he went on to tell her that if women made their homes ‘wonderful,’ men wouldn’t stray.  To my dismay, he also told her not to focus on the cheating and to be thankful if the husband was a good provider.

With all due respect, Mr. Robertson, you do not understand the nature of marriage and your comments sell both men and women terribly short.

First off, no one drives anyone to break their marriage vows.  Marriage is a covenant with God.  You either take it seriously or you don’t.  Those who cheat, don’t.  When a man cheats on his wife, he does not understand the covenantal relationship he has with her.  All he is focused on is pleasure, both physical and emotional.  By narrowing his focus to the sensual, he cuts the spiritual aspect out of his life and is unable to think or live like a true Christian.  Christians are called to see others as Christ and treat them accordingly.  When we live focused only on our sensual experiences, we lose the selflessness that we are called to as Christians and become what a priest friend of mine calls ‘spiritually cross-eyed.’  We focus in on ourselves instead of out on others and derive joy only from those things that are sensual.  Men (and women) who behave this way are infants, both emotionally and spiritually.  That said, this is a reason, NOT an excuse.  Just because you say that men “have a tendency to wander,” doesn’t mean they should.  We are, after all, above the animals in the order of creation and do have a measure of self control.

Scripture says, Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her, to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)SONY DSC

How does cheating on her or using pornography sanctify a wife?

Men are supposed to die for their wives, just as Christ died for His Church.  Maybe they won’t be called to die an actual physical death, but they are called to ‘die to self,’ to put their own needs aside and sacrifice for their wives.  This call, in Ephesians 5, is much bigger than merely being a good provider.  Men shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back if they are making lots of money, paying the mortgage on a big house, driving a brand new car, but cheating on their wives.  That is not upholding the covenant they made with their wives and with God.

As a spiritual leader to many, Mr. Robertson has fallen short in the advice He has given to this women and failed the men and women who have heard this advice.  It is not God’s plan for men and women to merely settle for being comfortable in a marriage in which vows are being broken.  When we read scripture, we see that Jesus called people out on their sins, sometimes harshly.  And He certainly didn’t say to the adulteress, “Well, if you make great meals and get the laundry done, but have a tendency to sleep with the neighbor once in awhile, that’s okay.” No.  He told her to stop.

I think Mr. Robertson would greatly benefit from reading Bl. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and also Love and Responsibility, both of which emphasize the sacrificial nature of the husband-wife relationship.

In Finding Rita, the novel I am currently writing, I address the issues of marital infidelity, pornography addiction and sexual abuse as it affects a marriage.  I have spoken to many women whose lives, and the lives of their children, have been impacted by their husband’s ‘tendencies.’

Men aren’t merely providers and women aren’t merely housekeepers.  God made us to be so much more, and I am saddened by the fact that Pat Robertson has failed to recognize that.

 

 

Book Review: Clare’s Costly Cookie by Julie Kelly

Clare

 

Clare’s Costly Cookie , published by Nativity Press, is the sweet story of a young girl and her developing relationship with Jesus.  Written as a series of prayerful conversations between Clare and Jesus, it is a wonderful tool for teaching children not only how to pray, but offers many life lessons that will enable them to grow in holiness.

Clare, the third of four children, often steals away to pray and work out her problems.  She encounters the challenges of any nine-year-old;  having to watch her younger brother, arguing with her older siblings, dealing with family members’ foul moods, struggles with sharing and speaking kindly toward others…the list goes on.  Clare, in her prayer, models for the reader how to pour one’s heart out to Jesus.  Each chapter brings a new challenge and a new prayer.  After praying, Clare listens quietly, and a solution to her problem is revealed to her. She concludes with a resolution to change or try harder.  At the end of each chapter there is a scripture quote which is related to the problem Clare brought to prayer.

This book functions almost as a mini-catechism, exposing the reader to topics such as the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, resisting temptation, the armor of God, redemptive suffering,  the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, humility and Eucharistic Adoration. Interwoven through Clare’s prayer are short stories of the saints, which help her resolve to be more like them in her daily life.

Author Julie Kelly is a Catholic homeschooling mom of six children and founder of Nativity Press.  A former retreat director, her expertise in this area comes through in her uncomplicated, yet eloquent writing.  The simple, elegant illustrations by Mary MacArthur enhance the reader’s experience and understanding of the story.

I wish I would have had this treasure to use when my own children were preparing for the sacrament of First Holy Communion.  It would have made teaching them much, much easier. At a mere 96 pages, this book is packed with Catholic teaching.  The engaging dialogues are a perfect read-aloud for parents of younger children and excellent for students in the elementary grades to tackle on their own.  Clare’s Costly Cookie would make a delightful gift for any child, particularly one who is preparing for or has received their First Holy Communion.

 

 

7 Quick Takes Friday, vol. 5

7_quick_takes_sm1

 

1. My novel, Angela’s Song, has received its 100th review!  And the reviewer gave it 5 stars! Yay!  To celebrate, I’m giving away a print copy of the novel.  Go to my Facebook Author page for details on how to enter.

2.  My publisher, Full Quiver Publishing, has just signed on author Erin Cupp!  They will be releasing her mystery-romance novel, Don’t You Forget About Me, on November 1st of this year.  I’m so excited about this new addition to the Full Quiver family!  Erin is a talented author and I’m sure you will love her novel!

3. I just came back from retreat.  17 other women and I caravanned up to snowy, frigid, Wisconsin to praise and worship the Lord for 4 days.  It was a real sacrifice, because on one of the days it was close to 80 degrees back home, and we were having negative temperatures.  One of the days it got down to -6.  Brrr!   But, I have to say, the room where we met had floor-to-ceiling windows and it was easy to contemplate God looking out over the beauty and serenity of the snow blanketing the trees and lake beyond.  I missed the one glorious day of spring weather back home, but, in the chill and bleakness of winter, God was still there, waiting to be found…

4. It’s snowing again.  A light snow, but snow nonetheless.  The calendar says the temperature will be in the high 50′s for Easter.  I’ll believe that when I see it!

5.  Ah…the older I get, it seems the crunchier I get.  I’ve started making my own yogurt. I bought the Matsoni strain, which cultures on the kitchen counter.  Can’t get any easier than that!  So far we’ve made honey yogurt and also blueberry.  My girls are enjoying it.  As I write, there are 2 more quart-sized jars culturing on the counter…

6.  C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce was part of my Lenten reading.  If you’ve never picked this one up, I highly recommend it!  In his description of Heaven Hell and Purgatory, Lewis uses amazingly stunning visual imagery to paint a picture of the eternal consequences of our decisions.  There were scenes so beautifully written that I found myself going back over them several times so that I could enjoy them again.

7. After my retreat, we had a one-day reprieve before my husband had to go on a 6-day business trip.  So, Monday was catch-up day and now the kids and I are roughing it without Dad.  I’m striving to keep up with the laundry and have the house neat and orderly, like he always does for me when I’m gone.  It makes all the difference, after you’ve been away for days, to come home to peace, instead of chaos.  I have to say, it’s easier now that our children are old enough to pitch in and help.  After years of diapers, Cheerios, Goldfish crackers and sippy cups, our lives have calmed down considerably.  I do look back and pine for a baby to hold or a toddler to carry on my hip now and then, but this is where our family s right now, so I must enjoy what I have.  I don’t want to spend the present with one foot in the past or even one foot in the future; otherwise I would miss the beauty of today!

 

 

 

Book Review: Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent

cultivating God's garden

Lent and Advent are good times during the liturgical year to read books of reflections on our relationship with the Lord.  So, when I saw that Marageret Rose Realy had just published Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent, I downloaded it onto my Kindle and made a quick survey of it, to see whether I wanted to use it this year.  From the first page, I was hooked.

cultivating God's gardenThis book, despite the title, isn’t just for gardeners.  And I’m thankful for that, because I have what they call a black thumb.  In fact, I’m so toxic to anything that grows, I’ve been banned from the family garden.  But that’s okay with me, because mostly everything about gardening (having to go outside, for example), doesn’t match my personal tastes.  Except for the flowers, of course.  I love having fresh cut flowers on my table.  I just like when they come from somewhere else and I don’t have anything to do with the process that happens before they appear in a vase in my dining room.  But I digress…

Margaret Rose Realy is a talented writer, who brings readers gently through the season of Lent, encouraging us, with earthy metaphors, to look at ourselves in a new way.  Realy’s reflections reveal the presence of God through nature and draw us closer to Him as we ponder her musings on gardening, neighbors and the cycle of life.  There is a peace that comes from meditating on Realy’s entries that I haven’t found in a book like this in quite sometime.  In this brief encounter with her thoughts, I was reminded that the Lord is often found in a whisper or a gentle breeze.

Pick up this book for Lent–in fact, download it right now– if you are looking for an oasis of peace in our often chaotic world.  You will be rewarded greatly.